With leading scorer and Horizon League Player of the Year Keifer Sykes on the bench, Green Bay simply didn’t have an answer for the Bruins. Craig Bradshaw scored a career-high 25 points as Belmont led wire-to-wire in an 80-65 win in the opening round of the 2014 postseason NIT.
“It’s a big win for us. It’s a big win because of the stage and the national tournament and a lot of tradition,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “It’s also a big win because of the team and the season Green Bay had this year.”
Belmont jumped out to an early lead behind hot shooting, but led by just four late in the first until closing out the half on a 12-4 run to take 49-37 lead into the locker room. The Bruins pushed the lead to as much as 21 points in the second half, before the Phoenix made a run. Green Bay pulled within seven, before an 8-0 Belmont run closed out the win.
Without Sykes on the floor, out due to an ankle injury suffered in the Phoenix semifinals loss in the Horizon league tournament, Green Bay struggled to hold onto the basketball, committing 21 turnovers. The Phoenix shot 51% from the floor, but hit just 3-13 from deep. Belmont hit 10 triples on the night, despite a 1-8 performance from OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann.
The smaller Bruins managed to win the battle on the glass 33-28.
“One of the things I was really worried about is they do a lot of different things on offense and we’re the kind of team that will adjust defensively and guard different actions in different ways,” Byrd said. “But with one day of practice and one night of scouting, we didn’t have a chance. We did talk about being more aggressive, taking a few more chances, not being afraid to defend. I don’t think we did anything (differently), we were just more active.”
Thanks to an upset in the upper-half of the bracket, Belmont will host eight-seeded Robert Morris in the second round of the Postseason NIT. That game is scheduled for Friday at 8:30 p.m. CDT, and will be aired on ESPNU.
- The Bruins can rebound. This isn’t like out rebounding Eastern Kentucky or SIUE. Green Bay is among the best rebounding teams in the nation, have two effective players 6’11 or taller, and were beat on the boards rather badly. Coaches will always tell you there’s more to rebounding than size, and tonight proved that for the Bruins, who pulled down 12 offensive rebounds. One small caveat to the rebounding numbers: Green Bay didn’t miss many close shots: the Phoenix were 21-34 on two-point attempts.
- Reece Chamberlain and Craig Bradshaw will still be a deadly combo next year. Chamberlain isn’t going to lead the team in scoring most night, but his eight assists tonight show just how deadly he can be in a backcourt with the slashing Bradshaw. One guard can beat you to the rim, the other can find the open man. It’s a great 1-2 punch that looks like it will prove quite potent even when Mann graduates after this season.
- Sykes could have easily made 15 points worth of difference for the Phoenix. They won’t make excuses, but that’s what we’re here for. Between scoring, (Sykes averages 20+ points a night) and Green Bay’s turnover issues, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to believe that a healthy Sykes would have turned the tide in the Phoenix’s favor. With Mann having a terrible shooting night, Belmont is racking up on luck this week. Not only was the Horizon League Player of the Year out, but a dismal first-half effort from St. John’s brings the second round of the NIT to Nashville.
|Off. Reb %||36.36%||25.00%|