NASHVILLE (Feb. 17, 2011) - In a game that mirrored the matchup earlier this season, the ETSU men's basketball team found itself in a tie contest with just over six minutes left, but ultimately fell 68-58 to the Belmont Bruins in Atlantic Sun Conference basketball action Thursday evening inside the Curb Event Center.
Back on Jan. 23, the Bucs were also tied with five minutes left but lost at home to the Bruins, 72-62. With the loss, ETSU dropped to 19-10 overall, 14-4 in A-Sun play. Meanwhile, Belmont improved to 24-4 overall, 16-1 in league play, and the Bruins wrapped up the A-Sun regular season title as well as the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
"This was a tough loss, but we have to move on to the next one," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team has won 15 of its last 18 games. "We played a good first half, but struggled in the second half. What's important now is that we need to regroup, do the best coaching job we can, and get ready for a very difficult game Saturday at Lipscomb."
In a game that featured the conference's top two defensive teams, the Bucs shot just 37 percent from the floor while Belmont also struggled to a 35.7 percent clip. However, the key to the game was ultimately at the foul line and on the boards, where the Bruins were 26-of-30 (87 percent) and the Bucs were just 19-of-29. In the paint, Belmont held a 44-28 edge.
Despite the loss, the game did not begin this way.
ETSU enjoyed a strong start to the game, pulling ahead by as many as nine points at 23-14 with 8:22 left before the break. Belmont battled back to cut the lead to four at one point, but after holding it for an apparent last shot before the break, the Bruins turned the ball over and senior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) was fouled on the other end with .9 seconds left.
Smith was shooting a 3-pointer on the play and went on to hit two of three at the charity stripe, making it 31-24 at the break. It was only the third time this season that the Bruins have trailed at halftime, and it was nearly their lowest point total of a first half this season (23 against Tennessee on Dec. 23).
After the break, Belmont used a methodical 13-2 run to take the lead 40-38. During that stretch, the Bucs went five minutes without a score. ETSU finally answered to tie the game at 40 on a pair of free throws from senior guard Justin Tubbs (Trussville, Ala.).
From there, it didn't get any better for the Bucs, as Belmont continued to ramp up the defensive pressure and ultimately built a lead of 61-51 with three minutes left in the game. ETSU cut back into the edge to make it 62-56 with 2:08 remaining, but from there the Bruins were a perfect 6-of-6 from the line to seal the win. In the second half, Belmont outscored the Bucs 44-27.
For the game, ETSU got a 14 points apiece from Smith, Tubbs and junior forward Isiah Brown (Miami), while Belmont was led by Ian Clark's game-high 18 points and an additional 10 points from Scott Saunders.
The Bucs, who still hold a two-and-a-half game lead on Jacksonville for second place in the league standings, now move on to a Saturday matchup with Lipscomb. Game time is 7:30 p.m. (EST). For more on ETSU basketball, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men's hoops link.