Belmont knocks Eastern out of OVC tournament

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Belmont knocks Eastern out of OVC tournament

Junior forward Trae Anderson attempts a shot during the Panthers' 97-64 loss to the Belmont Bruins in round two of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.  Anderson scored 13 points for the Panthers.

Junior forward Trae Anderson attempts a shot during the Panthers' 97-64 loss to the Belmont Bruins in round two of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.  Anderson scored 13 points for the Panthers.

Jason Howell

Junior forward Trae Anderson attempts a shot during the Panthers' 97-64 loss to the Belmont Bruins in round two of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.  Anderson scored 13 points for the Panthers.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

Junior forward Trae Anderson attempts a shot during the Panthers' 97-64 loss to the Belmont Bruins in round two of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament on Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.  Anderson scored 13 points for the Panthers.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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NASHVILLE, Tenn.— Belmont defeated the Eastern men’s basketball team Thursday 97-64 in the quarterfinals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

10 Bruins players scored in the game, with senior guard Craig Bradshaw leading the way with 23 points. Belmont had five players reach double figure scoring including freshman forward Amanze Egekeze, sophomore forward Evan Bradds, freshman forward Mack Mercer and sophomore forward Nick Smith.

Bradds and Smith finished with 14 points each, while Egekeze scored 12 points.

The matchup pitted one of the OVC’s best offensive teams, in Belmont, against one of the conference’s top defensive teams, in Eastern. The Bruins offense was too much for the Panthers, as they shot 36-for-59 from the floor, including 16-of-27 from three point range.

The game started with a 15-0 Belmont run, forcing Eastern to use two timeouts in the first three minutes of the game. The Bruins went 17-for-29 from the floor in the first half, and took a 47-24 lead into the locker room.

They led by as much as 36 points in the second half.

“When we got in there at halftime it was like a picket fence on the made three pointers,” Eastern coach Jay Spoonhour said. “It was like one, one, one, two, two, just everybody on their team was hitting them.”

Belmont advanced to Friday’s semifinal round, where they’ll face the No. 2 seed Eastern Kentucky Colonels.

Eastern’s leading scorer was senior guard Reggie Smith. He led the Panthers with 17 points against Belmont’s 2-3 zone defense, in his final OVC game. The Bruins outrebounded the Panthers 38-23 and held junior forward Chris Olivier to four points, his lowest scoring total since November.

“We knew it was going to be a tough match for us if we let them get open and make shots,” Smith said. “That’s what they did and there wasn’t much we could do about that. It’s just a tough loss for me right now.”

Eastern was able to shrink the deficit when Smith hit his fourth three pointer the game to make it a 59-42 game with 12:57 remaining. A couple of defensive stops gave the Panthers a chance to get back in the game, but Eastern couldn’t capitalize on their next two possessions.

Egekeze would hit a three pointer to make it 62-42, dashing any hopes of an Eastern comeback.

Junior forward Trae Anderson scored 13 points, and freshman guard Cornell Johnston finished with 11 points.

The loss ended Eastern’s NCAA tournament hopes. It was their first winning season since 2010.

“I told the guys that reality is we’re postseason eligible,” Spoonhour said. “We’re not going to go the NIT, but there are other tournaments that are really good tournaments. We’re not saying goodbye to anybody, yet because we still want to play some ball.”

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]