The Battle of the Boulevard
I just got the chills, and not 'cause it's cold here in Nashville. It's actually pretty warm in Belmont University's home gym, the Curb Event Center, hot enough for Cyrus to develop pit-stains the size of large fishing ponds. No, I got the chills from tonight's rendition of the National Anthem.
And the winner is...
This young lady in tight blue jeans and high black boots just stood at center court before the start of Nashville's most heated college basketball rivalry and belted out The Star Spangled Banner. She didn't even look nervous. She just got up there, all 5-feet 2-inches of her, and brought down the house.
They do music right in Nashville, but how's the basketball?
We're in town to check out an Atlantic Sun showdown as Lipscomb travels three miles up the road to take on Belmont in what is known as the "Battle of the Boulevard." It might not have the skill level of a Tennessee-Memphis match-up, which we'll have the pleasure of witnessing tomorrow, but the Lipscomb-Belmont rivalry has more history and is just as competitive.
The two teams have met 121 times before tonight with Lipscomb having won 68 times to Belmont's 53. But since both schools started playing Division I basketball in 2004, Belmont holds a slim 6-4 series lead.
A few of the letters had to visit the john.
Probably the best "Battle of the Boulevard" game was played back in March of 2006 when the two teams faced off in the Atlantic Sun Tournament finals with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. The game went to overtime before Lipscomb squeaked out a five point victory.
Back to the music riff: Each of these school's lists a litany of country stars as notable alums. Trisha Yearwood, Lee Ann Womack and Melinda Doolittle all attended Belmont, while Pat Boone and the lead singer for Diamond Rio went to Lipscomb.
Probably because I'm looking for it, but right before the game kicks off, there's music everywhere. The Belmont band, which includes a set of bongo drums, rocks the arena with a Beyonce cover. The basketballs seem to bounce in unison and everyone has this singsong southern accent.
Once the game starts, though, the music disappears. That's probably because I can no longer hear. I'm sitting directly in front of the Belmont student section, which clearly takes this game very seriously. Even when the Bruins start off shooting bricks and fall behind by ten points, there are these three girls who scream directly into my ear each and every time Belmont gets the ball. No more music, just a high-pitched ringing.
I guess that's how heated rivalries are supposed to be - the students passionately scream and cheer no matter how their team plays. And Belmont fans want nothing less than a victory over their neighbors.
Still scratching my head on this one.
Watching the game, what surprises me is the classy attitudes both teams maintain. The fans are going nuts. The mascots are all up in each others' faces and yet, before the game, the basketball players greet each other like old friends and any time someone gets knocked down, players from both teams help him up. Forget Gerald Henderson smashing Tyler Hansbrough's nose, it's downright cordial out there.
Eventually, the shots start to fall for Belmont. (When you take 16 threes in the first half, a few have to go down.) By the second half, we've got ourselves a shoot-out. In one minute and a half span, the two teams combine to hit six threes in a row. Belmont, which entered the game 11-2 in the A-Sun, is better equipped to handle the up-tempo pace and eventually the Bruins wear down the Bisons - yes, that's plural for bison, which is, itself, a plural - winning 74-65.
Was "The Battle of the Boulevard" comparable to Duke-North Carolina or Indiana-Purdue? No, but that's mostly because it just wasn't on the same scale. The arena was smaller, the fans not as many and the players didn't jump out of the building. But the intensity was still there. I can vouch for that. Twenty minutes after the game is over and I still can't hear out of my left ear. So much for Friday night live music. Maybe Cyrus will sing me a lullaby.