A little less than a week ago it looked as if Belmont had no shot to win the Atlantic Sun Conference’s regular season title.
Then the Bruins made some shots. Long shots. Lots of them.
Keaton Belcher made five of six 3-pointers in a 66-55 victory over Campbell on Thursday. Then seven players combined to make 14 of 27 3-point attempts Saturday in a 100-89 victory over East Tennessee State.
Both victories were against teams that — at the time — were in first place. Both contests also took place at Belmont’s Curb Events Center, where the Bruins will host rival Lipscomb Tuesday (6 p.m., CSS) in a contest with more than just bragging rights at stake.
Now Belmont and Lipscomb — each 6-4 in the conference — are two of the five teams separated by a game and a half at the top of the A-Sun standings. In addition to Campbell (7-2) and ETSU (6-3), Jacksonville (7-3) also is in the mix.
“The bottom line is we were hitting shots and we hadn’t been hitting shots,” sophomore forward Mick Hedgepeth said. “We were struggling.”
Before its sudden shooting surge Belmont lost three straight (all on the road) beginning Jan. 11 and fell to 4-4 in the conference, alone in fifth place. It also had a loss at home on Jan. 2 to Florida Gulf Coast, a team currently in a three-way tie at the bottom of the standings.
“(Last weekend’s) were games at home that, if you’re going to be any kind of contender, you need to get,” coach Rick Byrd said. “…The way I’ve always looked at a conference race is that you’ve got to hold your own at home and you have to get some quality road wins.”
Lipscomb welcomed the same two teams into Allen Arena, albeit in the opposite order, and had a chance to take control of the conference race.
Instead, the Bisons lost 71-69 to East Tennessee State on a 3-point shot at the buzzer. Then they fell 86-82 to Campbell in a game that was tied eight times, the last with fewer than four minutes to go.
The result is that Belmont and Lipscomb are tied in the standings although one is slumping and the other is streaking.
“We went through a little slump there,” Hedgepeth said. “We lost three in a row, but we beat Campbell and ETSU. … It’s huge to knock them off and get right back in the conference race.”
Things will continue to sort themselves out later this week when Belmont and Lipscomb play at ETSU and Campbell this weekend. Belmont is at Campbell and Lipscomb is at ETSU on Thursday and vice versa on Saturday.
“This is the toughest stretch on our schedule,” Byrd said. “So that’s nice to start it 2-0. … We do have better shooters than what they’ve shown most of the season.
“We’re not a 14-for-27 3-point shooting team, but we’re also not a 3-for-25, which is what we were against Lipscomb the first time.”
Their perimeter game could not have come to life at a better time.