COOKEVILLE, Tenn. - - Behind 28 points and 10 rebounds from senior Amanze Egekeze (Lake in the Hills, Ill.), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Tennessee Tech, 75-70, Saturday night.
Egekeze's go-ahead 3-pointer with one minute remaining gave Belmont a 70-68 lead.
The Bruins hit 5-of-6 free throws in the final 30 seconds to secure the victory.
Belmont rode some of its strongest defense of the season in the first half, holding Tennessee Tech to one field goal in the first 5:38.
Eight early points from junior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) gave Belmont a 17-9 lead eight minutes in.
Baskets from Egekeze and McClain stretched the margin to 10, 24-14, at the 5:34 mark.
The duo combined to scored 23 of Belmont's 33 points in the first half, as the Bruins led 33-23 at halftime.
Belmont held Tennessee Tech to 29 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes, while committing only three first half turnovers.
An Egekeze four-point play opened second half scoring, and increased the margin to 37-23 with 19:12 left.
But in a second half that featured 34 total fouls, as both teams managed foul trouble, Tennessee Tech worked back into the game.
The hosts got a surprise lift from reserve post Joan Duran; the junior forward entered the night with 29 total points on the season and two made 3-point field goals.
But by the 14:37 mark, Duran had already poured in a pair of wing 3-pointers and had 11 points to his credit, scoring that seemed to get Tennessee Tech going.
After two Egekeze free throws, a Curtis Phillips 3-pointer got Tennessee Tech within 47-42 with 14:05 left.
If Duran was Tennessee Tech's unsung hero, then senior Burton Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.) was the feel-good story of the game for Belmont.
Called upon by Coach Byrd with Belmont in frontcourt foul difficulty, Sampson chipped in six points in a four-minute span – including an acrobatic tip-in – that preserved a seven-point lead.
Junior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) had a rare four-point play of his own moments later – a made basket, missed free throw, and offensive rebound putback basket – to push the Belmont lead to 55-47 with 11:59 left.
Phillips capped a 6-0 Tennessee Tech run that cut the Bruin lead to two.
As Belmont continued to find scoring from the free throw line, a Kajon Mack conventional 3-point play gave the Golden Eagles their first lead of the game, 60-59, with 6:06 left.
Two Egekeze free throws put Belmont back on top, before a tough baseline 3-pointer from Shaq Calhoun gave Tennessee Tech a 63-61 lead with 4:26 remaining.
Windler scored inside off a timely Egekeze baseline feed, yet Mason Ramsey would answer for the Golden Eagles on a driving bank shot.
One Windler free throw got Belmont within one, 65-64, with 3:22 left, before Phillips scored along the baseline to give Tennessee Tech a three-point lead.
The back-and-forth affair would continue, as Sampson found Windler for another tough layin plus the foul.
But Windler's free throw to complete a 3-point play rimmed off.
After Ramsey and McClain exchanged free throws, Belmont got a defensive stop and set the stage for Egekeze's straight-on 3-pointer for the lead.
With Phillips having fouled out, Tennessee Tech turned to Corey Tillery who missed a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left.
Calhoun would also miss after the rebound was tipped out, and as the teams battled for the loose ball, Belmont gained possession on the possession arrow.
With possession deep in the Tennessee Tech backcourt, Windler's inbounds pass was defended by Mack and deflected off of senior Austin Luke (Rowlett, Texas) to give possession back to the Golden Eagles.
Yet Windler retured the favor, stealing Tennessee Tech's subsequent inbounds pass, and earning a trip to the free throw line.
He would make one of two to increase the Belmont lead to three, 71-68, with 30 seconds left.
With Phillips and Calhoun having fouled out, Tennessee Tech turned to Mack, who made a driving layin with 19 seconds remaining to trim the margin to one.
Sampson would be fouled on the Belmont inbounds pass.
In perhaps the biggest moment of his Bruin career, Sampson made both free throws to give Belmont a 73-70 lead with 17 seconds left.
The Bruins proceeded to defend Tennessee Tech's final possession extremely well, with Ramsey's potential game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds left rimming off.
Windler added the defensive rebound and two more free throws to secure the victory.
All told, Belmont shot 47 percent (22-for-60) from the field – including 7-for-30 from 3-point distance.
Egekeze led three Bruins in double figures with 28 points.
McClain had 15, while Windler added his 12th double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Sampson (Knoxville, Tenn.) had a season-high eight points in extended duty.
Phillips led Tennessee Tech (16-11, 8-6 OVC) with 17 points.
With the victory, Belmont has won 20 or more games 12 of the last 13 seasons. Belmont has also won 14 of its last 16 conference road games.
Belmont (20-7, 12-2 OVC) returns to game action Thursday, Feb. 15 vs. Eastern Kentucky. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center. he game will be broadcast on OVC Digital Network. The live play-by-play of the Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont has won nine of the last 12 meetings vs. Tennessee Tech … Sampson played 23 minutes, one off his career-high (24, vs. Seattle 11/19/17) … Sampson and McClain each made remarkable defensive plays; denying Calhoun on fast break attempts at the rim in each half … Egekeze went 13-for-13 from the free throw line; eclipsing the Belmont NCAA Division I era single-game record (12-12, Kerron Johnson vs. JSU, 3/2/13) … With 28 points, Egekeze passed Andy Wicke, Steve Drabyn and Adam Sonn on Belmont's NCAA Division I era career scoring list; he now stands ninth with 1,250 career points … Windler set a career-high with four steals.