RICHMOND, Ky. – In a game of runs, it was Eastern Kentucky that took control of the game with a 15-4 spurt in the second half on its way to a 81-69 victory over Belmont on Thursday at McBrayer Arena.
The Bruins (15-8, 7-3 OVC), the leaders of the Ohio Valley Conference East Division, opened the second half with 10 straight points to close within one, 40-39. It took three minutes for the Colonels (13-9, 5-4 OVC) to score their first points of the half, but once Eric Stutz got it started with a lay-up EKU scored 15 of the next 19 to build a 12-point advantage.
Stutz took a pass from Timmy Knipp and thundered down the lane for a dunk. Corey Walden came up with a steal at the other end, took it to the house for a lay-up and drew the foul. His free throw capped the game-changing run and put Eastern ahead 55-43 with 12:41 left to play.
EKU essentially put the game away by extending its run to 21-7 to go in front by 15 with 9:39 remaining. Belmont got as close as six with just over four minutes to go.
“Our team did a really good job tonight of coming out with a lot of energy and playing with a lot of enthusiasm,” Eastern Kentucky Head Coach Jeff Neubauer said. “There certainly was a crowd in here tonight, really happy to see the students in here making so much noise. Best environment we’ve easily had this year.”
Stutz made 10-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-3 from three-point range, to finish with a career-best 27 points. He also had six rebounds and three steals. Walden finished with 15 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Taylor Barnette and Reece Chamberlain scored 14 points each for the Bruins. Evan Bradds had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Craig Bradshaw, the third leading scorer in the OVC at 18.7 points per night, finished with just six on 2-of-6 shooting.
EKU shot 62 percent in the second half and 57 percent for the game. The Bruins made 53 percent of their shots but turned the ball over nine more times. Eastern out-scored BU 32-10 off turnovers.
The first half was a series of runs. With Belmont leading 5-3 early, the Colonels rolled off a 19-4 run that had the large crowd going crazy. Eastern hit three 3-pointers during the run. A triple from the right wing by Walden followed by a steal and lay-up from the senior finished it off and put the home squad in front 22-9.
Later in the half, the Bruins scored 12 unanswered to close a 15-point deficit to two. Seven of Belmont’s points came off four EKU turnovers. Chamberlain’s three-pointer made it 31-28 with 4:18 left in the first half.
Eastern had a scoring drought of 3:36 during the Belmont run, but then the Bruins went the final 4:18 scoring only one free throw. Stutz went to work inside. On headband night at McBrayer Arena, the senior who has made headwear a campus-wide trend scored six straight points. Knipp’s three-pointer with 36 seconds on the clock made it a 9-1 run and sent EKU to the locker room in front by 11, 40-29.
Knipp finished the night with 12 points.
Eastern Kentucky continues its three-game home stand on Saturday against Tennessee State. Tip-off at McBrayer Arena is set for 7 p.m.
Eric Stutz set his previous career-high of 24 in Eastern’s previous home game, against Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Jan. 17.
These two teams began the day at the top of the OVC and in the top-12 in the nation in three-pointers per game. Belmont was seventh with 10.1 and EKU was 12th with 9.1 per game. The Bruins had 12 threes and Eastern made 10.
Corey Walden now needs 21 more steals to break the EKU career record of 221 held by Jamie Ross (1988-92).
Belmont entered the game leading the OVC in scoring at 74.3 points per game but scored 69 on Thursday.
Corey Walden began the day as the only player in the OVC ranked in the top-8 in scoring (2nd), field goal percentage (8th), assists (7th) and steals (1st). He finished with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting, eight assists and three steals.
Belmont’s Evan Bradds began the day ranked first in the nation shooting 69.8 percent from the field. He made 5-of-6 shots on Thursday.
Eastern Kentucky entered the game second in the nation in turnover margin (+8.1) and fifth in steals (10.0 spg). The Colonels had nine fewer turnovers and grabbed 10 steals.
The series is now tied 4-4, and the Colonels have won three of the last four meetings. EKU is 3-1 against the Bruins in Richmond.