After two tournament wins, Belmont basketball falls to Dayton in the 2021 ESPN Events Invitational f
Following two victories that propelled them to the final game, the Belmont men came up short in a nail-biting 63-61 loss to the University of Dayton at the ESPN Events Invitational Championship Sunday night.
Belmont, alongside seven schools including the University of Alabama, University of Kansas and University of North Texas, competed in the annual basketball tournament at Walt Disney World Resort, which took place over Thanksgiving weekend.
“Quality of opponents, three games in four days, prestigious event, national TV — all of those things combined made for an important trip and our guys have handled it tremendously,” Bruins head coach Casey Alexander said before the Sunday game.
The team won its tournament contests on Thursday and Friday, defeating Missouri Valley Conference opponent Drake University 74-69 and following up with a 72-65 win over Iona College.
Belmont had plenty of reasons to be thankful in the game versus Drake, as senior Nick Muszynski scored a career-high 31 points alongside junior Ben Sheppard’s 17 points.
Freshman Will Richard also brought home double digits, collecting 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The win comes after a 83-53 loss versus Louisiana State University Nov. 22 that upset the Bruins’ winning streak.
“I’m really pleased with how we’ve bounced back from the LSU game,” said Alexander. “We learned a lot of lessons in that game and we knew, regardless of how that went, this is going to be a really important weekend for us.”
On Friday, Belmont tipped off against Iona College, who defeated No. 16 University of Alabama in the first round.
Picking up where they left off against Drake, Sheppard and Muszynski played another outstanding game where Sheppard’s career-high 25 points combined with Muszynski’s 19 points made up 61% of Belmont’s total score in the team’s second contest of the tournament.
Muszynski and Sheppard’s stellar production left their coach satisfied, but not surprised, keeping up with their reliable track records this season.
“Moose, he’s been a complete player. So we’ve totally ridden on his shoulders in the last week. And then Ben, as I’ve mentioned several times in the offseason, I’m not ever surprised anymore at his production,” Alexander said.
With a second win under Belmont’s belt, the Bruins moved on to the Sunday championship against the Dayton Flyers, who impressively outscored both the University of Miami and the Kansas Jayhawks on their way to the tournament finale.
“They’re playing with great confidence. They have unbelievable athleticism, and you can see the pride of the Dayton program both in their fans that are here but also with their players, so we’re completely ready for their best effort,” Alexander said before Sunday’s game.
Well aware that it wouldn’t be an easy contest, when the game came down to the wire, the Bruins were unable to hang on. The team struggled from 3-point distance, only downing 6 of its 22 shots.
Muszynski, however, still had a dominant performance with 23 points and four assists in his 35 minutes on the floor. Following the tournament, he was named to the All-Tournament Team for his 73 points, 39 rebounds and seven blocks over Belmont’s three games
All and all, Belmont played a successful tournament with a runner-up spot out of eight elite basketball programs.
After an exhausting and exhilarating tournament, the Bruins will rest and prepare to host Boulevard rival Lipscomb University on Thursday in the Curb Event Center.
PHOTO: No. 33 Muszynski reaching for the ball at tip-off against Dayton, Nov. 28. Belmont Vision / Nikiah Perry.
This article was written by A.J. Wuest. Contributory reporting by Jessica Mattsson.