By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels (14-4, 4-1 OVC) fell to Belmont (14-4, 5-0 OVC) 83-76 Thursday in a matchup of two unbeaten OVC East Division teams that lived up to all the pregame hype.
EKU stormed back from a 17-point first half deficit, going on a 29-10 run to take a 41-39 lead on a Mike DiNunno three pointer four minutes into the second half.
The lead changed hands seven more times the rest of the way before Belmont scored six of the last seven points of the game to pull away at the end.
Playing without leading scorer Glenn Cosey for the third straight game, the Colonels were really shorthanded for much of the game with starters Corey Walden and Tarius Johnson spending extended time on the bench in foul trouble, then fouling out in the second half.
But the Colonels bench came up big when they needed it most, with Timmy Knipp, Robbie Stenzel, Ryan Parsons and Orlando Williams playing exceptionally well to help keep EKU in the game.
Knipp, who had only played three minutes in the past 11 games, had a career-high 13 points, hitting back-to-back three pointers early in the second half as the Colonels took their first lead. He also had three rebounds, two assists and one block.
Stenzel, who missed 10 games with an injury, hit three big free throws after being fouled on a three-point shot in the second half.
Parsons played the last five minutes after Walden fouled out and Williams was injured.
Williams had 10 points, three rebounds and six assists before being injured late in the game.
“We had some guys step up and help bring us back. We knew we needed to make a run at these guys with some offense and Timmy Knipp certainly gave it to us. I can’t say enough about the effort of our guys tonight,” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said in a radio interview. “Our guys fought. It wasn’t just Timmy. We had Robbie Stenzel out there, Ryan Parsons played four really tough minutes and Mike DiNunno fought like a senior. The guys really did fight even though we got down early.”
After struggling to find the basket early in the game, going 0-of-8 from behind the three-point line, the Colonels shooters got hot in the second half.
DiNunno connected on four threes in the second half, while Knipp had three, Williams had two and Marcus Lewis had one.
A three-pointer and two free throws by DiNunno gave the Colonels a 69-65 lead with 7:29 to go in the game.
Belmont then reeled off the next 12 points to go up 77-69 with just more than three minutes left.
But once again DiNunno brought the Colonels back, connecting on back-to-back three pointers in a 20-second span to cut the Bruin lead down to two points at 77-75 with 2:23 to go in the game.
But Belmont held the Colonels to only one Deverin Muff free throw the rest of the way and held on for the victory.
The Bruins forced the Colonels into 16 turnovers on the night, including 11 steals. Five of the Colonels’ turnovers came on the first seven trips down the court to start the game.
“We’re not used to turning the ball over that much or having the ball stolen 11 times, but that is something that Belmont does very well,” Neubauer said.
The Colonels defense forced the Bruins into 21 turnovers, including 13 steals. EKU scored 29 points off Belmont turnovers.
The Bruins, who entered the game averaging shooting 52 percent from the field, finished the game shooting 50 percent from the field and 38 percent from behind the three-point line.
The Colonels, after a very slow start, finished the game shooting 48 percent from the field and after a 2-of-12 start, finished shooting 33 percent from behind the arc.
DiNunno led all scorers with a game-high 24 points. He also had two rebounds, two assists and three steals. Eric Stutz finished with two points, while Deverin Muff had one point.
The Colonels don’t have much time to think about the game with a battle with Jacksonville State coming up at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Alabama, but Neubauer said he was confident his team would rebound from the loss.