Belmont couldn’t quite dig itself out of the hole.
Trailing by 17 points with seven minutes left in the second half, the Bruins made a furious comeback in their season opener against No. 24 Tennessee on Tuesday. They pulled within a point with 36 seconds left but missed a couple late 3-pointers. The Volunteers also made eight free throws in that span and escaped with an 85-76 victory in the first round of NIT Season Tip-Off in Knoxville.
Belmont (0-1) will now play Arkansas State in the consolation round of the tournament at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tennessee (2-0) will play Missouri State, which knocked off Arkansas State earlier Tuesday, at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Both games will be in Knoxville.
Mick Hedgepeth had a chance to tie the game with 36 seconds left but his second free throw went off the front of the rim. Tennessee’s Cameron Tatum grabbed the rebound, drew a foul and made both of his free throws for a 79-76 lead.
Ian Clark, who had gone out with a knee injury just two minutes earlier, missed an open 3-pointer on the next possession. Hedgepeth saved the ball as it went out of bounds but Tennessee’s Trae Golden grabbed it, drew another foul and made both free throws.
J.J. Mann’s 3-pointer also missed the mark and the Volunteers hit four more free throws in the last 20 seconds. They made 32-of-40 free throws while Belmont was 19-of-28.
Clark finished with 18 points, Drew Hanlen added 13 – all in the second half – and Hedgepeth had 10 points. For Tennessee, Scotty Hopson led the way with 18 points, Tobias Harris added 16 and Tatum had 14. The Volunteers survived despite 27 turnovers. Their rebounding edge (40-24) helped make up for it and they led 41-35 at halftime.
They scored the first five points of the second half and kept Belmont at arm’s length for most of the game. Tennessee took a 71-54 lead with 7:01 remaining when Renaldo Woolridge converted a slam dunk on a fastbreak. Belmont stayed composed as Hanlen knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers. Before his treys, the Bruins had missed 11 straight from beyond 3-point range.
It was the start of a 22-6 run for Belmont. Down 77-70 with two minutes left, the Bruins’ Brandon Baker made a layup and Mann forced a turnover. That led to two free throws by Hanlen. Tennessee turned the ball over again and Kerron Johnson made one of two free throws.
Hopson missed a 3-pointer and John Fields was called for an offensive foul as he tried to grab a rebound over Hedgepeth. That put Hedgepeth at the free-throw line. The junior made the first and then Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl called a timeout. That might have broken Hedgepeth’s concentration as his second shot was well short.
Belmont will get another shot at Tennessee this season. The Bruins will head back to Knoxville on Dec. 23 for a non-conference matchup that had been scheduled long before the NIT Season Tip-Off’s field had been set.
• Loss not too disappointing for Lipscomb: In its quest to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, the Lipscomb men's basketball team took a huge step in the right direction last week – in the form of a loss.
Lipscomb battled No. 8 North Carolina tough in Friday’s season-opener at Chapel Hill, N.C. but ultimately fell 80-66.
The Bisons, however, can take comfort in the fact that they gave the Tar Heels a scare. They led late in the first half, stayed at an arm’s length for most of the game and trailed just 59-56 with less than nine minutes left.
“I just liked our resolve and how we kept competing on a high level for a long period of time against North Carolina,” Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said. “I just wanted us to play very hard. Sometimes when you get down on the road, especially first game of the year, you have a tendency to tuck your head. Hopefully that won’t happen with us this year with having such an older team back. ... It did not happen in the North Carolina game.”
The Bisons bounced back on Monday night with a 103-78 blowout victory of Division II Stillman College in their home opener at Allen Arena.
For the second straight game, freshman Robert Boyd provided a lift off the bench. He scored 13 points against North Carolina and led the team with 20 against Stillman.
In two games, the guard from Knoxville is 9-of-14 from the field and 12-of-12 from the free-throw line. He also has seven assists, seven steals and just three turnovers in 46 minutes.
“The biggest thing I have enjoyed with him is besides his ability to make shots, is that he has just had unbelievable poise,” Sanderson said. “He gives you a lot of energy defensively too because he can really guard the ball and he is quick, long and athletic. He has gotten off to a good start.”
Lipscomb hosts Austin Peay (2-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday and then travels to Texas next week for a Monday showdown against Baylor, which is ranked 17th in the latest Associated Press poll.
• Pease named A-Sun Player of the Year: For the third straight year, the Atlantic Sun Volleyball Player of the Year honor went to a Lipscomb standout. The Bisons’ senior setter Stefine “Jake” Pease received the award for the first time in her career. Outside hitter Alex Kelly won it the past two years.
Pease, who was also the preseason player of the year, led the conference with 11.53 assists a game. Pease and Kelly were the league’s only two unanimous all-conference first team selections. Kelly, a senior, led the A-Sun with 4.14 kills a set and was fourth in hitting percentage (.307).
Senior Meghan Hinemeyer was named to the all-conference second team for Lipscomb, which was a perfect 10-0 in conference play and captured its second straight league title.
Belmont’s Kayla Albritton was named to the first team. Maggie Johnson and Tara Blood were selected to the second team and Hannah Miranda and Allison McCoy were All-Freshman team picks.
Both schools will participate in the A-Sun Conference Tournament, which begins Thursday in Fort Meyers, Fla. Belmont, the No. 4 seed, will play Mercer on Thursday. The winner of that match will play top-seeded Lipscomb on Friday in the semifinals.
• MTSU’s soccer season ends in first round: The Middle Tennessee State women’s soccer team lost 3-0 to No. 15 Florida State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday in Tallahassee, Fla.
Florida State scored its first goal with two seconds left in the first half, taking the momentum into halftime.
The Blue Raiders’ hadn’t lost a game since Oct. 8, winning seven straight heading into the Sun Belt Conference tournament two weeks ago. Middle Tennessee (13-9-2) then won three more to win the league championship, with the last two games being decided by penalty kicks, and receive its first bid to the NCAA Tournament.
• Cumberland’s playoff bid falls short: Despite an 8-3 record, the Cumberland football team failed to make the NAIA playoffs after losing its regular-season finale.
The Bulldogs lost to the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky 52-27. It was a matchup of the top two teams in the Mid-South Conference West Division. The University of the Cumberlands finished with a 7-3 mark and a 5-1 record in conference play to advance to the playoffs.
The Bulldogs were 4-2 in league action and ranked 23rd in the final regular season coaches’ poll. Behind one of the nation’s top defenses, Cumberland won eight of nine before its final game. With just five at-large bids available and 11 conference champions guaranteed spots in the 16-playoff format, the Bulldogs were left out. Cumberland has reached the postseason just once before, in 1993 when the Bulldogs won a school-record nine games.
• MTSU’s Rowe earns weekly honor: Middle Tennessee State forward Ebony Rowe was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Week for women's basketball.
Rowe, a freshman from Lexington, Ky., scored 25 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the Blue Raiders’ season-opening victory against South Florida on Sunday.
The double-double and 16 rebounds are the most in a MTSU debut during coach Rick Insell’s six years at the helm. She was 9-of-11 from the field and had three blocks, three steals and two assists.
• Trevecca honors: The TranSouth Conference announced its all-conference soccer teams on Monday, and a trio from Trevecca Nazarene were honored.
On the men’s side, goalkeeper Hayden Coffman, a junior from Hendersonville, earned first-team honors and midfielder Benji Bussell was named to the second team. On the women’s side, Kate Worley was selected to the second team.