Milwaukee, WI – Led by preseason first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference players Evan Bradds and Craig Bradshaw, the Belmont Bruins traveled to Milwaukee on Friday night and defeated the Marquette Golden Eagles, 83-80, in a highly contested and entertaining season-opening game for both schools.
Bradshaw, a 6-3 athletic wing with deep range, got the Bruins off to a fast start by burying his first three shots from behind the arc, two of them well behind the NBA three-point circle, all within the first seven minutes of the game.
“Craig took some ‘don’t take that shot’ threes early and they went in,” said Belmont coach Rick Byrd. “He took some later that didn’t go in, but he’s an exciting player.”
Perhaps less exciting, but perhaps more efficient, Bradds led the Bruins with 24 points and nine rebounds. A wiry junior who plays taller than his 6-7 listed height, Bradds converted on 10-of- 13 shots and all four of his free throws. He was especially effective rolling out of and slipping screens from the top of the key, catching passes on his way to the hoop and converting over and around Marquette bigs Luke Fisher and Henry Ellenson, both 6-11.
“l thought Evan Bradds played really, really well,” said Byrd. “He’s a player no one knows about. By scoring 24 points on only 13 shots against the kind of (big) players he was playing against, that says a lot.”
Scoring at a highly efficient rate is nothing new for Bradds, who led the NCAA last season with a .688 shooting percentage and set an OVC record by making .756 of his shots in league games.
With eleven letter winners on a team that finished fourth in the country last season with ten made three-pointers per game, Belmont entered the contest with a well deserved reputation for scoring from long distance. Spacing the floor with shooters as Belmont did, Marquette mostly decided to stay connected to the Belmont players squaring up behind the arc and do the best it could defending Bradds in the two-man, pick-and-roll game.
“They (Belmont) space the floor and he (Bradds) has a ton of space to work with,” said Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski. “They have terrific shooters and he’s a real good, experienced player.”
Heading into the first ever match-up between Belmont and Marquette, the game featured the experience of Belmont against the youth of Marquette. That story line played out in the closing minutes of the game as both teams traded turns with the lead.
A free throw line jumper by Marquette sophomore Duane Wilson put Marquette up 80-79 with 1:23 left to play. Fouled on a drive to the basket, Belmont sophomore guard Austin Luke answered with two free throws to put the Bruins back up 81-80.
Two members of Marquette’s highly acclaimed freshman class, Ellenson and guard Traci Carter, then committed turnovers on Marquette’s next two possessions and Belmont headed back to Nashville with the well-deserved win.
Byrd labelled the game “hard fought.” Wojciechowski went one step further calling it a “15-round fight, the first one for many of our guys.”
“Belmont is a terrific team,” continued Wojciechowski. “They make you pay for your mistakes. They’re one of the better teams we’ll play this year.”
In his much anticipated first game in a Marquette uniform, Ellenson did not disappoint. Leading the Golden Eagles with 21 points and 16 rebounds, the 2015 McDonald’s All-American scored at all three levels and spearheaded Marquette’s second half rally.
But like many of his teammates, Ellenson struggled to finish at the rim, often against little or no resistance from the smaller Bruins. “A lot of times, as a young team, we had trouble finishing, ” said the second year Marquette coach. “Finishing the first half (Belmont outscored Marquette 14-3 to end the first half), finishing lay-ups, finishing free throws (Marquette was 18-for-27 from the line) and finishing the game. We missed ten to 12 shots at the basket we could have easily made. If we make five of those, that’s ten more points.”
While clearly disappointed losing his season opener, Wojciechowski said he was anticipating a highly contested game. “I’ve been worried about this game ever since I found out who we were playing,” said Wojciechowski. “I had to ask myself who I ticked off to have to start the season this way.”
Both schools resume play on November 16. Belmont takes on a second straight power conference school when it travels to Tempe, Arizona to play Arizona State, and Marquette looks for its first victory when it hosts IUPUI.
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