RICHMOND — A raucous crowd helped, but it was hard-nosed defense and a 13-0 blitz that made the biggest differences Thursday night as Eastern Kentucky scored a 74-63 Ohio Valley Conference victory over Belmont.
A McBrayer Arena crowd of 5,200 gave the Colonels a boost from the get-go.
"The atmosphere in here tonight, I thought, was really electric, and this is what people want from a college basketball game," Coach Jeff Neubauer said. "A great crowd. Great energy in the building.
"And then I think our team really competed at the defensive end. ... We forced 20 turnovers. Our focus going into the game was about our defense, and for 11 of those 20 turnovers to be on steals, which sometimes produce transition, that just makes all the difference when you're playing such a good team like Belmont."
The 13-0 run midway through the second half, triggered by the defense, proved decisive.
"We just wanted to be more active and just steal the ball more," Corey Walden, who led EKU with 18 points, said of the key run. "The more times we can steal, the less shots they can get up."
Glenn Cosey added 13 points, while Tarius Johnson had 12 and Eric Stutz scored 10.
Marcus Lewis had eight points and a team-high four steals. Cosey added three steals and Walden had two.
"Crazy," Lewis said of the crowd atmosphere. "That's probably the best game since I've been here crowd-wise, intensity-wise. ... It was just good to feel that support."
"The most fun I've ever had in a game in my life," Walden said. "A lot of energy, and a lot of fans came out to support."
Eastern, the pre-season pick of league coaches and sports information directors to win the OVC East, improved to 12-6 overall, 3-2 in league play.
Belmont (12-7, 4-1), defending champion of the OVC, is No. 18 in the latest College Insider.com Mid-Major Top 25, six spots ahead of EKU.
Craig Bradshaw topped Belmont with 22 points. Drew Windler was next with 12, while J.J. Mann had 10.
Belmont dominated the rebounds 37-24, including 14-5 on the offensive glass. But EKU, with nine turnovers, enjoyed an 18-8 edge in points off turnovers and a 38-16 bulge in points in the paint.
The Colonels also shot 51.9 percent (27 of 52), compared to Belmont's 37.5 percent (18 of 48).
No more than four points separated the teams in the first half, which ended with Belmont on top 32-31.
The score was tied eight times in the half, with four lead changes.
Bradshaw's three-pointer to open the second-half scoring again gave Belmont a four-point cushion, but Eastern hung tough.
The Colonels tied at 39 on a Lewis steal-and-stuff, then took a 46-45 lead when Stutz scooped in a reverse layup.
Belmont came back to tie at 48, but Eastern rattled off the next 13 points.
Walden started the run with a three-pointer. Cosey hit two free throws, then added a three-point bull's-eye with 8:15 left.
Timmy Knipp was next with a three-pointer, and Cosey wrapped up the spree with two free throws at 7:04 for a 61-48 lead.
After Belmont got an Evan Bradds free throw, Lewis scored down low to give EKU a 14-point cushion, 63-49.
Belmont cut the deficit in half with 1:42 left, when Bradshaw's layup made it 66-59.
Lewis answered with a rim-rocking dunk.
Again Belmont pulled to within seven, 68-61, on a pair of free throws by Reece Chamberlain with 1:09 left.
That was as close as the Bruins would come, though, as EKU scored six straight points at the foul line.
The teams will play at Belmont on Jan. 25.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.