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Players remember the buzz of the crowd in 1990 game
Belmont's Scott Corely and Joe Behling, Lipscomb's Philip Hutcheson and Darren Henrie
Belmont's Scott Corely and Joe Behling, Lipscomb's Philip Hutcheson and Darren Henrie

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Whenever Lipscomb and Belmont meet the game is billed as the “Battle of the Boulevard”. But the first game played under that label wasn’t held on Belmont Boulevard where both schools are located approximately two miles apart.

On Feb. 17, 1990 the two teams played off of West End Avenue at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym. Monday night at Lipscomb’s Allen Arena the two rivals will meet for the125th time. But despite the many memorable games between the two schools whenever fans get together they still talk about the magic of that February night, a 124-105 win for the Bisons.

“It is fun to have people come up to you and say their high school coach brought them to the game when they were 18 years old,” said Lipscomb’s Darren Henrie. “Or that someone watched the game as a 10-year-old because his Dad brought him.

“They can rattle off the players and what happened in the game. You realize that you were part of something that was special in a certain place and time that is lodged in their minds. We were fortunate to be a part of it.”

The Nashville Athletic Club asked Belmont to give up a home game to play at Vanderbilt. Coach Rick Byrd and his players agreed. Both teams were ranked in the top five nationally in the NAIA. The Bisons were 14-0. Belmont was 13-1.

The game was fast-paced with the Bisons hitting 47-of-75 shots, 62.7 percent from the field and Belmont connecting on 43 of 82 attempts, 51.8 percent. Belmont out-rebounded Lipscomb 46-to-30.

“If you looked at Belmont’s box score alone you could have never imagined that they lost the game with the points they scored and the stat lines they had,” said Philip Hutcheson, who led the Bisons with 30 points and now serves as the school’s Director of Athletics. “But our team played a little bit better. We shot great. Our assists-to-turnovers ratio was 3-to-1.”

The most optimistic estimates of a potential crowd ranged from 10,000 to 12,000 fans. The Lipscomb and Belmont women played in the first game of the evening and by halftime of their game more than 12,000 people were already in their seats. When the men’s game tipped off every seat in Memorial Gym was filled with 15,399 fans, an NAIA record for a men’s basketball game.

Hundreds more were outside trying desperately to get in, but the Nashville Metro Fire Marshall closed the doors. Scalpers were doing a brisk business selling the tickets for more than six times the $4 face value.

The buzz from the crowd is what most players remember from the game.

“We knew something was brewing when we saw the crowd outside,” Henrie said. “When we ran out for warm-ups we felt the energy from the crowd and it was electric. To get 15,000 or so people in there was amazing. The noise from the crowd was still buzzing in my ears when we went to our dressing room at halftime.”

Belmont’s Scott Corley said the crowd was almost overwhelming to the players on both teams.

“We felt like there would be decent interest, but certainly not a sell out with people being turned away,” Corley said. “It was pretty overwhelming. I think we all had to step back and say, `wow, this is really happening.'"

The changes in the Lipscomb and Belmont basketball programs have been numerous since that historic game.

Then Lipscomb coach Don Meyer is at North State in Aberdeen, S.D. Belmont has changed its nickname from Rebels to Bruins. David Lipscomb College is now known as just Lipscomb University. Both teams are in the Atlantic Sun Conference playing in NCAA Division I.

But the constant is that both programs have remained successful through all of the changes. Hutcheson thinks that the continued success of the two programs has helped to enhance the memories of that Feb. 17 game.

“If Lipscomb and Belmont had not continued to be such good teams I don’t think that people would be talking about is still,” Hutcheson said. “But the teams have continued to be good. They have both become more competitive in NCAA Division I.

“I think that just feeds on itself. “The`Battle of the Boulevard’ has become a brand unto itself. For a lot of sports fans, if you say `Music City Miracle’, they know exactly what you are talking about. If you say `Battle of the Boulevard’ they know exactly what you are talking about.”

Belmont’s Joe Behling led all scorers with 45 points. He remembers the response from the Lipscomb crowd whenever the Bisons scored.

“Lipscomb’s crowd was numerous,” Behling said. “Every time they hit a shot, and they didn’t miss many, you heard a buzz during the whole game. And it was a buzz you don’t forget. We were used to playing in front of small crowds so to play in front of more than 15,000 fans is a special memory.”

In addition to Hutcheson, the Bisons placed three other players in double figures. Wade Tomlinson scored 25, Henrie added 21 and Marcus Bodie scored 20.

On the Belmont side Greg Thurman scored 20 and Corley chipped in 19.

“I had played in pick-up games at Vanderbilt, but playing in an actual game against our arch-rival was truly a special occasion,” Behling said. “After 20 years we still rib each other.

“We don’t talk about it much because we lost. But people remember the quality of the basketball instead of who won or lost. That is a testament to both universities.”

For many fans it was their first glimpse of “small college” basketball. What they saw was the rare game which actually lived up to its hype.

“For a couple of years we felt like we had some great basketball going on in Nashville,” Hutcheson said. “Some people knew about it, but not as many as we would have liked.

“We had a really special rivalry with one another. We were pretty excited to have a wider audience to see it than we had ever had before. When we walked in during the women’s game and saw that it was packed we thought this is going to be better than we ever imagined.”

Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations