SPARTANBURG, S.C. – There is a reason games are not played on paper and Friday night's game in the Hodge Center proved that fact. Entering Friday's game the Belmont Bruins were averaging nearly 85 points per game and owned a margin of victory in league play of +29.0.
USC Upstate (2-16, 1-7 A-Sun) held Belmont well below its season average as the Bruins posted its third smallest points total of the season in the 67-62 victory. The Spartans never trailed by more than 11 in the contest, six fewer than Belmont's smallest margin of victory in league play this season.
Before arriving in Spartanburg, the Bruins (17-3, 9-0) last four games had been decided by 31 or more points (North Florida, W-91-59; Jacksonville, W, 81-50; Lipscomb, W, 88-52; Campbell, W, 90-55).
Upstate found itself in a 30-21 hole at halftime after Torrey Craig's (Rock Hill, S.C./Great Falls HS) 75-foot heave hit the back iron. However, Josh Chavis (Greensboro, N.C./Dudley HS) cut the deficit to just six, after canning a three pointer less than 20 seconds into the second half.
Following Chavis' three the Bruins went on a quick 7-3 spurt to take a 37-27 lead with16:31 remaining in regulation. After nearly a three minute drought by both teams, the Spartans went on a 10-1 run over a two minute stretch to cut the deficit to one at 38-37 with 11:43 remaining.
The Bruins quickly pushed the lead back to nine points, 46-37, after an 8-0 spurt capped by Ian Clark's layup with 10:14 to play. The Bruins appeared to have held the Spartans at bay as Belmont owned a 61-51 lead with less than four minutes on the clock.
The Spartans had one last run left in the tank for the stretch run on Friday night.
Ricardo Glenn (Augusta, Ga./Richmond Academy) ended a two minute Upstate drought as he connected on his layup from the left side of the paint with 2:19 left. He was fouled on the attempt and sank his free throw to cut the Bruin lead to just seven (61-54).
Upstate climbed to within five points on Babatunde Olumuyiwa's slam dunk from the right side with 80 seconds to go.
After Belmont sank a pair of free throws with 36 seconds left to push the lead to four, 65-58, Craig rattled home a three pointer from the top of the key with a hand in his face to draw the Spartans within four.
Trailing 65-61, the Spartans got the defensive stop they needed and raced toward the home basket. Chavis found a cutting Marquis Sloan (Greenville, S.C./Greenville HS), but Sloan lost the ball out of bounds and the Bruins regained possession.
Olumuyiwa connected on one of two free throws with eight ticks on the clock, but Belmont was able to sink both free throws in the final seconds to escape with the five point win.
The Spartans were led by Craig's double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. Both were game highs and it was the third double-double of the season for the freshman. His 23 point performance also marked the fourth time since the Spartans rang in 2011 that he has tallied 20 or more points.
Chavis and Olumuyiwa also reached double figures on Friday night as they finished with 13 and 11, respectively.
The two teams battled throughout the first 10 minutes of the game, but Belmont was able to extend its lead to double digits on numerous occasions in the final 10 minutes of the first period.
Belmont was led by Mick Hedgepeth (19 points) and Ian Clark (10 points).
Not only did the Spartans appear to end Belmont's perfect record in the A-Sun, but the Spartans nearly halted another Bruin streak. Belmont entered the game connecting on seven or more three-pointers in their last 23 outings, dating back to Feb. 18, 2010 (at Stetson). The Bruins got to magic number seven on Clark's trey with 4:53 remaining.
Upstate will return to action on Sunday afternoon when they entertain league foe Lipscomb. Tip-off between the Spartans and the Bisons is slated for 2:00 p.m.