The 138th Battle of the Boulevard did not disappoint as the Lipscomb Bisons fell to their arch-rival, Belmont Bruins, 78-76 during overtime in a sold-out Allen Arena.
Lipscomb sprinted to an early 10-4 lead, thanks to threes by freshman Kenny Cooper and sophomore Garrison Mathews. The Bisons controlled the game early. The Purple and Gold fed off the energy of the home crowd.
Mathews played with tenacity and passion, diving on the floor for loose balls and attacking the rim with back-to-back and-ones, converting on the second.
“That’s the great thing about, Garrison he’s a tremendous competitor,” head coach Casey Alexander said.
Junior Nathan Moran jumped into action hitting back-to-back threes, pushing Lipscomb to a 10-point lead midway through the first half, 19-9.
The Bisons played smart and well-timed team defense throughout the first 10 minutes, holding the Bruins to just nine points.
Belmont would use a big dunk to fuel a run as the Lipscomb lead stood at seven, 26-19, near the end of the first half.
Moran hit another big three-pointer, which extended the Bison lead to 31-23 and then hit back-to-back free throws to give Lipscomb a 10 point lead, 33-23.
Freshman Kenny Cooper made his presence felt as he sprinted down the court with five seconds left in the half and hit a layup with a half second left to give Lipscomb a 10-point lead once more.
“That’s what he can do, and he’s a freshman,” Alexander said, “so he’s trying to figure it out, but these games right here help him grow up a lot.”
Belmont came out of the half and scored six quick points to cut the lead to four.
Senior Josh Williams, who was 0-4, got on the board with his first points with a three that extended the lead to seven, 39-32.
Freshman Bruin Amanze Egekeze, who had a huge dunk earlier, hit a three that pulled Belmont within two, 43-41.
Senior Cam Miller drew a charge that didn’t score, but put Lipscomb one foul away from the double-bonus and stopped Belmont’s momentum.
Belmont and Lipsomb traded baskets, but the Bruins took a two-point lead, 49-47, thanks to back-to-back baskets from freshman Kevin McClain: his first two makes.
Egekeze nailed another big shot that put Belmont up 55-51 with under five minutes to play.
However, a key foul on Belmont’s Luke Austin led to two free throws for Miller that he converted. In Lipscomb’s next possession, Mathews hit a three from the top of the key, which made the arena come alive and gave Lipscomb a 58-55 lead.
A review of a jump ball gave Lipscomb one second on the shot clock that enabled Mathews to rebound off of the miss and give Lipscomb a 59-57 lead with 2:41 to play.
Another review made with 1:22 left determined whether a ball went off of Belmont’s Evan Bradds. The officials reversed the initial call and the ball went to Lipscomb. Williams sunk both of his free throws making it 63-61 Lipscomb.
Belmont scored to tie the game and got the ball back. There senior Taylor Barnette hit both free throws to give the Bruins a two-point lead, 65-63.
A steal by Cam Miller off of Belmont’s next in-bounds play gave Lipscomb a chance to win with 00:16.3 left.
Garrison Mathews was fouled in the lane with four-point-five seconds left to play, where he sunk one of two shots. More than 40 minutes would be needed to decide this edition of The Battle.
“We were going to go to him down the stretch, because he draws so many fouls and it’s very difficult to control a guy like that,” Alexander said.
Three seconds into overtime, Belmont’s Luke Austin fouled out with 11 points. Mathews once again hit one of two free throws, giving Lipscomb a single-point advantage.
“You can see he wants the ball in every circumstance,” Alexander said.
Barnette drained a big-time three to give Belmont a four point lead, 70-66. However, Lipscomb would battle back and tie the game 70-70.
Sophomore Rob Marberry added a huge dunk of his own to give Lipscomb its first lead in the extra period. That sent everyone in the arena to their feet.
Marberry slammed home another emphatic one-handed dunk to put the Bisons ahead 76-72. This time Belmont would answer with a clutch three from none other than Barnette making it 76-75.
“As a team who’s led for 80 of 85 minutes and as a coach it’s my first priority is for them to be concerned about the process,” Alexander said. “As a guy who loves those kids in there, it’s gut-wrenching that they don’t get the reward [of the process].”
Barnette pulled up from the “L” in LU and nailed another three to give Belmont the lead for good, 78-76 in another thrilling installment of the Battle of the Boulevard.
“I told our team, ‘Taylor Barnette’s a great shooter, and over the course of his career he’s made plenty of them, including the game-winner to go the NCAA Tounrament.’ So I don’t want him shooting threes by any stretch, but if he’s 3-13 on the night and 10-12 feet behind the line… as much as I like Taylor I would take it,’” Alexander said.
The Bisons battle Morehead State Saturday Dec. 10 at 4:00 p.m. in Allen Arena.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics