In order to overcome Lipscomb on Friday, Belmont first had to overcome itself.
With the Bruins making only three of their first 17 shots, they were forced to rally from a 10-point deficit in the first half before polishing off the Bisons 74-65 before 5,072 fans at the Curb Event Center.
Belmont coach Rick Byrd could only look on in frustration while waiting for his team to heat up.
“It was very strange to me,” Byrd said. “We showed very little poise, but Lipscomb guards us every time we play. They always have.”
The Bruins finally found their groove offensively and completed a “Battle of the Boulevard” sweep over their city rivals for the first time in three years.
Belmont [20-8 overall and 12-2 in Atlantic Sun play] can clinch a tie for the conference championship on Thursday with a home win over Campbell. Two victories will nail down the title outright.
Justin Hare led the Bruins with 14 points and came up with two clutch steals in the closing minutes. Josh Slater led Lipscomb [13-15, 7-7] with 16 points.
“To sweep the ‘Battle of the Boulevard,’ it’s a great feeling,” Belmont forward Jordan Campbell said. “It’s what we prepare for in the offseason.”
The Bruins grabbed the lead for good with 6:10 remaining on a layup by Andy Wicke. Down the stretch, Hare scored six points to help preserve the win.
Even when Lipscomb led 19-9 early in the game, Bisons coach Scott Sanderson sensed trouble.
“Even when we were up 19-9, we weren’t very good offensively,” he said. “You’re not going to hold a team down that shoots as well as they do.”
Belmont surged back to close the first half, using a 10-0 run to claims its first lead of the game. The flurry was capped by a put-back basket by Henry Harris with 2:00 to go before halftime.
“The last five minutes of both halves, we were very bad,” Sanderson said.
Lipscomb shot 53.3 percent in the second half, but it wasn’t enough, as Belmont shot 29 free throws [making 19, including 14 in the second half] while the Bisons were only five of nine.
Given the fact that Belmont played Alabama and Cincinnati during the pre-conference schedule, Byrd savored his team’s 20th win of the season Friday.
“To get to 20 wins is an accomplishment,” he said. “It looks doubtful to me every year when I look at our schedule. It’s tough for us to get to 20.”