The Belmont Bruins entered the OVC Tournament as the number one seed and that number one seed afforded them a double bye, where they waited until Friday for their opponent. Well, after two days of tournament action, that opponent ended up being the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. But instead of the top seed being the aggressor, Jacksonville State was and the Gamecocks pulled off the upset of the OVC Tournament, beating Belmont 65-59.
Both teams opened up the game trading basket for basket until forward Amanze Egekeze hit a layup and got fouled. After converting the ensuing free throw, Belmont held a 7-4 lead. But Jacksonville State would hang right there, with Malcolm Drumwright hitting a three-pointer to tie the game heading into the media timeout at 15:36. Out of the timeout, the teams would trade a basket until Belmont went on a 5-0 run to give the Bruins their biggest lead at five points. But Jacksonville State would not go away, as Greg Tucker hit a three-pointer in the right corner to bring the Gamecocks within two points and Malcolm Drumwright hit a jump shot to tie the game again, but this time at 14. Amanze Egekeze quickly broke the tie by hitting a three-pointer and giving the Bruins a three point lead with a little under eleven minutes left in the first half.
Coming out the media timeout, the Gamecocks got a layup by Nobertas Giga and a jumper by Malcolm Drumwright, his eight and ninth points of the night, to take their first lead at 18-17. But that quickly changed as Dylan Windler hit a three-pointer to put the Bruins back in the lead at 20-18 with 7:48 remaining in the half. The Gamecocks just would not go away, as they would go on a 9-0 run, capped off by a Nobertas Giga three-point play. At that point, the game was getting in the danger zone early for Belmont as they entered a media timeout.
Out of the media timeout, the problems continued for Belmont, as they were not able to hit from three-point range early on (3/18) and were general off-balance. The Gamecocks continued their run by extending their seven-point lead to eleven before Belmont took a timeout with 2:14 left in the first half. Dylan Windler finally stopped the bleeding for Belmont, as he drilled a three-pointer with a little under two minutes remaining, bringing the Bruins within eight points. That shot would spark Belmont, as Evan Bradds would take it inside and finish a layup while getting fouled with 1:13 left in the half. Bradds would miss the free throw, but the Bruins had got the deficit down to six points before the half. Belmont would continue to make a dent in the Gamecocks lead with an Evan Bradds layup bring the lead down to four points. And right before the half, Taylor Barnette would hit a layup and get fouled with 2.8 seconds left. The senior guard would hit the free throw, completing a 10-0 Belmont run as the half closed.
Belmont struggled to shoot the three-pointer in the first half, going 4-19 from three-point range. But when they went inside to Evan Bradds or attacked the basket, great things happened for them. For Jacksonville State, they had a lead and were slowing down the tempo on Belmont. They executed the plan very well, as they held Belmont to 20 points for most of the half. But the Gamecocks were not able to sustain, as the Bruins were able to get some things going and close that big lead down.
In the start of the second half, Greg Tucker got the scoring started for Jacksonville State, as he hit a midrange jumper to extend the Gamecock lead to three points. But after having a cold-shooting first half, the Bruins connected on their second attempt from three-point land in the second half, this time coming from Amanze Egekeze, tying the ballgame at 33 early in the second half. The Gamecocks would respond to Belmont tying the game by going on a 9-0 run that stretched over five minutes. Bradds would stop the run with a couple free throws and Austin Luke would hit a three that would bring Belmont within four points early in the second half. Jacksonville State would hit a free throw, but Belmont would come down and score on a Taylor Barnette layup, cutting the deficit to three points before Greg Tucker of the Gamecocks hit a layup putting Jacksonville State backup five points.
Belmont, who was cold from the three-point line for most of the game, hit a three to get within one basket. The Gamecocks would answer back, hitting two shots to extend their lead to 49-45. Belmont would answer though, as Austin Luke would hit a layup and get fouled. The three-point play would get the Bruins within three. Belmont and Jacksonville State would then trade three-pointers for a couple possessions until Greg Tucker hit one that the Bruins would not answer before the media break, giving the Gamecocks a six-point edge with 7:07 left in the game.
With game pressure on the Bruins, they went to their best player, Evan Bradds. The senior post player would deliver, scoring a layup that would bring them within four points with a little over five minutes left. Christian Cunningham would answer Bradds' score, but Bradds would come back and attack the rim, getting fouled in the process. Bradds would cash in at the free throw line, helping the Bruins stay close to the Gamecocks with 3:44 left in the game, 57-54.]But of the timeout, Malcolm Drumwright would nail a huge three-pointer to put the Gamecocks up seven points with two minutes remaining. Evan Bradd would hit a layup. Combine that with an errant pass from Jacksonville State that turned into a Dylan Windler dunk and Belmont got back within three points in twenty-five seconds, 62-59. After a Belmont timeout, the Bruins a foul with 19 seconds on the shot clock with 30 seconds left on the shot clock.
Greg Tucker would miss the ensuing free throw, giving Belmont a chance to tie the game. Senior Taylor Barnette shot a three with 17 seconds left and it went halfway down and out, causing Belmont to have to foul and send the Gamecocks to the free throw line again. Erik Durham would hit one of two free throws and Belmont would race the basketball down the court. But Austin Luke would turn the ball over and Belmont would have to foul again. At that point, Drumwright would hit both free throws and the game was sealed. The Gamecocks would take out the top-seeded Bruins and march on to the OVC Championship game.
For the Bruins, they were led by Dylan Windler and Evan Bradds with 16 points apiece. As far as Jacksonville State, their leading scorer was Malcolm Drumwright with 21 points, followed by Greg Tucker with 1q8 points.
Belmont's Evan Bradd had this to say about their season ending tonight: "Obviously it sucks. That is just how it goes sometimes. You will win sometimes and other times you will lose."
Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper has his team playing good at the right time. But he also has his team focused: "We left Jacksonville with one thing in mind. These guys know. We've talked about it and we don't have to talk about it much here, but we didn't come here to play one game."
The Bruins season comes to an unfortunate end for them. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks have the opportunity to make school history by advancing to the championship game. If they are to win, the OVC title and NCAA berth would both be firsts for Jacksonville.