Usually when Missouri Valley and Ohio Valley schools collide you're in for good one. Thus was the case tonight when two of the best teams from each conference clashed in Nashville. The Belmont Bruins are off to a 7-1 start this season and are currently sitting at #15 in Mid-Major Madness Top 15 Rankings. Meanwhile, the Evansville Purple Aces have been overshadowed by Wichita State and Northern Iowa but are off to a great 6-1 start.
Obviously everyone was excited to see what went down on the court but wasn't the real question who would have the nicer sweater vest, Rick Byrd or Marty Simmons?
Evansville actually started Tuesday night's game on a swift 10-3 run in the first three minutes. It didn't take very long for Belmont to get their first lead of the game though as Nick Smith nailed two free throws with just over 10 minutes left to grab an 18-17 advantage for the Bruins.
Evansville quickly tied the game back up at 20 but the Belmont went on a 10-2 run to establish an 8 point lead which they would carry all the way to a 37-29 halftime advantage.
Much like the first half Evansville came out firing in the second half. D.J. Balentine gave the Purple Aces a 46-44 advantage with 13:48 when he nailed a big three from the left wing. Balentine scored again to cap off what was basically a 19-7 run to close out the first eight minutes of the second stanza.
Evansville would actually never trail again in a 65-62. In a very out of character moment Belmont coach Rick Byrd received a technical for some of his words with the referee with just over two minutes left. The technical didn't just expand the Purple Aces lead to a two shot game but also nearly ate up 30 seconds of clock in a pivotal point in the game.
Byrd was almost bailed out by Mislav Brozja in the final minute when the sophomore was ejected from the game after a vicious pick with his elbows high on the defensive end. Belmont could only make one of the technical free throws though and then turned the ball over on a three seconds call on the next possession.
While you can point at Byrd's technical as a rough moment it was really the absence of Craig Bradshaw, due to injury, and really poor shooting that hampered the Bruins tonight. Belmont shot 36.7% from the field total and Reece Chamberlain, who needed to step up in Bradshaw's absence, was just 1-for-11 from the field.
Tonight was just the third home loss for Belmont in their last 63 appearances. Evansville will almost certainly make their way into the aforementioned Top 15 rankings thanks to Balentine's 25 point performance. Oddly enough he was the only Purple Ace in double-figures tonight.
Evansville will have another OVC foe in their way this week when they host Murray State on Saturday. Belmont will look for revenge when they welcome Wright State to the Curb Events Center on Thursday. The Raiders were the only teamto beat Belmont before tonight.