Chapter 4 || The Game

Heading into the 1989-90 season, both Belmont and Lipscomb returned nearly all of their important players as Hutcheson and Behling were flanked by All-Americans and specialists alike. Each team had four guards or wings spaced around their high-scoring big men.

With five capable shooters on the floor at all times, the Battle rivals practiced the modern-day “pace and space” style nearly 30 years before it became en vogue among the elite NBA and college basketball teams in the country.

The starting point guard on Bisons at the time was Don Meyer’s son, Jerry Meyer, who saw firsthand how similar the evenly-matched teams were.

“We were two teams that were kind of ahead of the curve as far as style of play goes,” Meyer said. “You see a lot of teams doing now what we were doing then as far as spacing the court and trying to get four shooters out there, and then not being hesitant to let it fly. We were Golden State before Golden State.”

At Lipscomb, high-flying two-time All-American Darren Henrie, college basketball’s all-time steals leader Marcus Bodie, and college basketball’s all-time assist leader Jerry Meyer joined Hutcheson as they blazed through games in the Bisons signature up-tempo attack.

Down the street, honorable-mention All-American Greg Thurman and Belmont’s all-time steals leader Scott Corley and sharpshooter Scott Speedy formed a high-powered lineup along with Behling.

“Both teams had a lot of offensive weapons,” Behling said. “And it wasn’t just me and Philip Hutcheson. Both teams had guys that could shoot the ball. That’s why we were able to score.”

All of these prominent figures stepped onto the court at the same time for what was the most high-profile matchup in the history of the rivalry. It was essentially a Best of Nashville All-Star Game, a collection of talent rarely seen sharing the court together at the NAIA level. Locals refer to it as simply “The Game.”

“That was one of those nights that is kind of like the Music City Miracle for Nashville sports where everybody you talk to says they were at that game,” Organ said. “There would have been 100,000 people at that game if everyone who says they were there were actually there.”

On February 17 1990, the two squads met in front of a then-NAIA record crowd of 15,399 people at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium, a figure higher than the reported 15,378-person capacity of the arena. Ironically, the most notable game in the rivalry’s history, and the one for which its namesake was invented, took place not on Belmont Boulevard, but on West End Avenue.

“When you’re at an NAIA school, you don’t even really dream about the opportunity to play in front of that many people,” Corley said. “You could see people outside scalping tickets. It was kind of surreal.”

Even the players had some trouble getting to the arena that night because of the  amount of people coming to watch these two NAIA schools play. Hutcheson remembers how he and his teammate Wade Tomlinson had to park down the street from the stadium after they drove themselves over.

“The next night, LSU was playing Vandy there, and that’s when Shaquille O’Neal played for LSU,” Hutcheson said. “I told Wade ‘I guarantee you Shaquille O’Neal is not going to have to park this far away to walk to the game tomorrow night.’ But then we walked in there, and the atmosphere was amazing.”

According to several people affiliated with the specific matchup, former Belmont two-sport star Ron Bargatze is who spearheaded the campaign for the rivalry’s showdown at Memorial and for the nickname Battle of the Boulevard itself, which was created in the hopes of establishing a brand for the rivalry in the build up to that match.

“The group that promoted it did a wonderful job,” Corley said. “There was all this buzz around town.”

The Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Association’s two best teams entered the matchup ranked in the top-five in the nation. Lipscomb was undefeated at 14-0, while Belmont sat at 13-1.

“All of us went into the game knowing that it was going to be an event,” Behling said.

The teams raced up and down the court all night, keeping up a break-neck pace throughout. Lipscomb shot 47-75 from the floor, while Belmont connected on 43 of their 82 attempts.

Seven players scored 19 or more points in what was a prolific affair. Belmont’s Behling notched a game-high 45, while Hutcheson led Lipsomb with 30. The Bisons deployed a trio of 20-plus scorers to flank Hutcheson asWade Tomlinson, Henrie, and Bodie added 25, 21, and 20, respectively. The Bruins trotted out two other high-scorers as Thurman dropped 20 and Corley had 19.

“We played each other five or six times that season,” Hutcheson said. “For all four of us starting seniors to score over 20 in that environment was pretty special.”

The final score sat at a deceptively-large deficit of 21 points as Lipscomb won 124-105, but those in attendance and who played in the game called it one of the most unique contests they had ever witnessed or participated in.

“I remember that game at Vanderbilt very vividly,” Meyer said. “It was an unbelievable experience. It was special.”

TheGame
The Tennessean