NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Belmont let a lead get away in a season-opening loss.
The Bruins didn’t make the same mistake in their second game, a 69-60 upset of Vanderbilt on Monday night.
Belmont (1-1) took its first lead with 13:56 left in the first half and never trailed after that.
“This game was not a lot different than our game against Washington except the last five minutes we lost the same lead we had tonight,” Bruins coach Rick Byrd said. “I think that experience probably helped this team. I guess it could hurt you, too, because you start wondering, but instead they buckled down and got some big stops at the right time and made some big baskets.”
The Bruins led most of the way in Friday’s 86-82 loss at Washington, but the Huskies closed with a 23-10 run.
Belmont’s Dylan Windler scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and Amanze Egekeze added 22 points against Vanderbilt.
The Bruins are adjusting to life without Evan Bradds, the school’s Division I era career scoring and rebounding leader.
“I think we’re trying to find a new team identity without Evan,” Windler said. “I think we took a step up on defense, for sure. I think that showed tonight. I think our guard play has been well and Zay has stepped in for Evan.”
The Bruins delighted a record crowd of 5,266 at Curb Event Center in a matchup of two Nashville schools.
Belmont earned its fourth win over a Southeastern Conference team, winning for the 91st time in the last 97 home games.
“If you take their last (three) games, Belmont, — they won at Georgia, they lost to Georgia Tech, they should have beat Washington at Washington,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said. “They led for 39 minutes and lost and then we’re coming into their place, the only team at the BCS level to ever come in here to play a game. Obviously, we know they’re going to play one of their best games of the year.”
Vanderbilt’s Jeff Roberson posted his second straight double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“Oh, it’s real frustrating and it kind of shows our inexperience all around,” Roberson said. “I think we all had a chance to make something happen and we never really strung together enough stops to make a good comeback.”
Saben Lee scored a team-high 19 points for the Commodores (1-1), who beat Austin Peay in Friday’s opener.
Vanderbilt made only 4 of 23 from 3-point range and the Bruins outscored the Commodores 32-20 in points in the paint.
Vanderbilt’s long-range shooters struggled and the Commodores took a step backward after winning their opener.
Belmont added to its giant-killer reputation with another win over an SEC team.
BIG SIGNEE: Vanderbilt got some good news on the recruiting trail nearly four hours before tip-off when Brentwood Academy’s Darius Garland, one of the nation’s top point guard prospects, signed a national letter of intent to play for the Commodores. The 6-foot-2 senior picked Vanderbilt over UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, Duke and Kansas.
The two-time Tennessee Mr. Basketball averaged 23.4 points and 4.5 steals for BA (30-2) last season, leading the Eagles to their third straight Division II-AA state title. His father, Winston played in the NBA between 1987-95.
Egekeze said the Bruins are trying to find new ways to generate offense without Bradds, who graduated last spring. “Obviously, Evan had a really big usage rate in our offense,” Egekeze said. “I think we’ve tried to play a little bit faster than we did last year. More ball movement. We have Mack (Mercer) and Tyler (Hadden) at the five now, who are able to stretch the defense a little bit more.”
Belmont’s style of play and experience troubled Vanderbilt.
“It’s a different style,” Drew said. “In the SEC, we won’t see all the skip passes. The veteran players that we played against that have played together for multiple years. And so they ran their stuff good.”
Recording artist Julianna Zobrist, wife of Chicago Cubs utilityman Ben Zobrist (2016 World Series MVP), sang the national anthem. The couple met while Julianna was a Belmont student and they live in Franklin, just south of Nashville.
Vanderbilt hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Friday to face the Bulldogs, who were picked to win the Big South Conference at the league media day.
Belmont visits Middle Tennessee on Thursday in a matchup against the Blue Raiders, who set a school record for wins with a 31-5 record that included a win over Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season.