The two programs met for the first time as Division I opponents in 2004, as Belmont battled to a 66-64 overtime win at Lipscomb’s Allen Arena.
The 2005-06 season proved to be a turning point for the Boulevard rivals. After splitting the regular season matchups and finishing with identical 15-5 conference records, the teams ended the season as co-regular season ASUN champions. Lipscomb earned the tiebreaker, giving them the top seed in the conference tournament, while Belmont took the second spot.
Each squad handled their first and second round opponents with ease, setting up an ASUN Championship matchup for the ages and the most anticipated Battle of the Boulevard meeting ever as the first NCAA Tournament bid in the history of either program was on the line.
“From a news perspective, it was one of those things where, when both teams won, here’s the first opportunity for one of our two local schools to make the NCAA Tournament,” said Nashville CBS affiliate sports producer Brian McKeegan. “And the game was crazy. From what I remember, it was back and forth most of the way, especially in the second half.”
The teams faced-off in a tiny gym in Johnson City, Tennessee at the home of the tournament’s hosts the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. Fans, community members, and Nashville sports media figures all made the nearly five-hour trip to witness the action in person.
In what was a back-and-forth affair throughout, Belmont prevailed in overtime 74-69 thanks to the heroics of the ASUN’s leading scorer Justin Hare and the coaching tactics of Byrd.
“The level of anxiety that I had in that game was not even on the same chart compared to any other game I’ve ever been a part of in any sport,” said current Lipscomb head coach Casey Alexander, who was a Belmont assistant during that time. “State Championships, NAIA Tournaments, NCAA Tournaments. I’ve never experienced anything like that day.”
Hare scored 10 of his game-high 32 points in overtime, and snatched the ball away from Lipscomb in the game’s final seconds to clinch the victory and, more importantly, the ASUN title and corresponding NCAA Tournament bid.
“That shaped the programs for sure, on both sides,” Lipscomb’s leading scorer for the game and season Eddie Ard said. “That game was a call away from going in a different direction. We had expectations that year. Our mentality as a team was that we were a better team.”
“Who knows where the two programs would be if the ball had bounced a different way in that game and Lipscomb had won and Belmont hadn’t,” Alexander said. “There’s no way to know for sure, but I think it’s safe to say that the history of events since then would have been at least a little bit different.”