The Byrd Cage

Belmont vs. ETSU: A Special Kind of Homecoming

In Game Posts on February 17, 2012 at 11:57 am



It’s difficult to define a rivalry.

They are like many things, a process of evolution. A rivalry will ebb and flow throughout the years. But in any rivalry, whether it be Auburn & Alabama, UNC & Duke or Ohio State and Michigan, there are specific instances or games that fans can point to as defining moments in that evolution.

For Belmont and ETSU, the Atlantic Sun Tournament Semi-final game in 2008 in Nashville is undoubtedly one of those instances. Anyone who was there remembers the experience (more on that later). The game seemed like it was out of reach with ETSU up ten at the 6:22 mark. Belmont had kept it close to that point, but a 10-2 run stretched a two point deficit for the Bruins to the largest of the night. No one could have predicted what would unfold over the last 6:22 of the game but it has become a defining stretch in the history of Belmont basketball.

There are so many layers to this story, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll cover the high level. YouTube will pick us up at the 0:38 mark in the game, but between 6:22 and 0:38 ETSU scored only two points. Belmont picked up eleven.

A steal by Keaton Belcher led to a three by Shane Dansby. From 6:04 to 2:50 nobody scored a single point. Henry Harris broke the drought with a defensive rebound and a 2 point jumper. Hare would add a free throw and Henry Harris would go all Henry Harris again and record a steal followed by an old-fashioned three point play.

On the ensuing possession Mike Smith, the number seven all-time scorer for ETSU, would be fouled by Jordan Campbell and sink two free throws. Bucs 65, Bruins 62. 1:52 to go. Hare would add two more free throws on the Bruins’ next possession making Allen Arena electric. Things seemed to be trending in the Bruins’ favor, but it would still take a little magic for everything to go Belmont’s way.

Up one with 1:30 left in the game Smith, again one of the greatest to don a Bucs uniform, turns the ball over. After a timeout and inbound play, Justin Hare, one the greatest to don a Bruins’ uniform, gave the ball back to Smith off a missed jumper.


Now, let’s go to the video.





[0:00] We open with Mike Smith preparing to inbound the ball with 38.2 on the game clock. Chaos ensues. After two near-turnovers, Kenyon Swader attempts a short jumper but misses. Kevin Tiggs collects the rebound and gets it out to Swader who is fouled by Belmont’s Andy Wicke.

[0:36] Wicke is initially called for the foul but Swader, who swings his arm and appears to say something to Wicke is immediately tagged with a technical foul.

[1:37] Justin Hare would go to the line and sink both free throws giving the Bruins a one point lead.

[3:06] The initial foul call still stands so Kenyona Swader still has a chance to retake the lead and goes to the line for a one-and-one. He misses and Shane Dansby rebounds, passes to Alex Renfroe who passes to Justin Hare.

This stretch is incredibly significant.

First of all, Swader had 17 points and 15 rebounds in the game. He was virtually unstoppable throughout and by the end had two separate opportunities to seal the game. The first was the short jumper with 27 seconds left and the second was his trip to the line.

Second, the Bucs should have known to foul immediately if Swader missed the front end of his one-and-one. Instead, they let the ball get to Justin Hare, an 80.4% career free throw shooter, out of the hands of Renfoe who shot only 65.2% from the line, out of the hands of Shane Dansby who shot 67.6%. If football is a game of inches, basketball may be a game of nano-meters (not sure if that’s a thing) but those nano-meters (again, no clue) are what make all the difference in a tight game.

[4:00] Hare goes back to the line for two more free throw attempts. He makes both.

[4:07] Vince Gill is cool as a crooning cucumber.

[5:10] Shout out to @MSWinters21 & @ToddFarrellJr.

[6:04] There’s still 0:17 on the clock and the Bucs inbound the ball to Courtney Pigram, the number three all-time scorer for the Bucs, who has a decent look but airs it out of bounds. The ball will be inbounded to Shane Dansby who will make one free throw and put the game out of reach.
There are too many cliche phrases by the announcers to point them all out, but at one point an announcer says that this game will be hard to overcome for ETSU. He was absolutely right. The Bucs are still pissed about this game and it became crystal clear just how much it affected them when the Bucs visited Belmont in 2010. Still two years after the ASun Semi-final game, two coaches on ETSU’s staff engaged in a verbal exchange with several Belmont fans. I won’t tell you what was said, but it was clear that no one who is in any way associated with ETSU is willing to accept criticism (or heckling) from anyone associated with Belmont.


Homecoming Match-Up Saturday

ETSU entered the 2010-2011 season coming off of two consecutive conference tournament championships and two trips to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Belmont reclaimed its rightful place at the top of the conference but many, myself included, expected ETSU to be a much better team this year.

To date, they’ve been lackluster at best. With an overall record of 13-12, an RPI of 210 and zero wins against RPI Top 100 opponents, ETSU’s season is simply not up to par with previous seasons.

Adam Sollazzo, 6-6 Senior Guard

Adam Sollazzo runs point and leads the team in points and assists per game with 15.2 and 4.48 respectively. Compare that with Belmont’s Kerron Johnson: 13.9 and 5.37 in the same categories. Kerron also plays almost six fewer minutes per game than Sollazzo. Sr G Tommy Hubbard is the only player other than Sollazzo to have started each of the Buc’s 25 games this season. Other regular starters for ETSU include; Sr F Isiah Brown and Jr G Sheldon Cooley, each with 24 starts this season, and Jr G Marcus Dubose with 17. The Bucs average 67.6 per game and allow 64.7. At present, the Bruins are ranked 3rd in the whole dang country averaging 82.4 per game.

The Bucs are coming off of what may be the low point of the season so far in a six-point home loss to Jacksonville on Monday night. Tied with Lipscomb for the fifth spot in the ASun, ETSU has a chance to make up ground in their four remaining games. Bruins fans shouldn’t expect ETSU to limp in to this game; the Bucs always play tough in Nashville. But Belmont owns the series 13-8 and has won the last four in a row against ETSU. It’ll be close for 30 minutes at least but in the end, ETSU doesn’t have the depth to match Byrd’s onslaught of talent.

I predict the Bruins sending a homecoming crowd away happy with at 78-67 victory.

-Matt Sherrill

Tip-off is at 7:15 Saturday at the Curb Event Center


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