Updated: Sep 20, 2022
With over 3,500 students and spectators packing the Curb Event Center stands for Belmont’s last regular-season game in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Bruins cruised to an 87-67 victory over crosstown rival Tennessee State University.
The much-needed win comes after the Bruins fell short on the road in their previous outing, but with one last chance to put on a show at their home court, the men gave fans a homecoming game to remember Saturday night to secure a No. 2 seed in the upcoming OVC Tournament.
Despite a slow start to the game, once Belmont lit the fuse, strong defense and big buckets from everywhere on the floor set off fireworks.
“We needed a game like this,” head coach Casey Alexander said. “I thought our guys played really hard. Our energy was great all along.”
From the tipoff, it took a few minutes for the Bruins to get started.
The Tigers quickly jumped out to a 12-3 lead, which prompted Alexander to call a timeout and regroup his team.
From there, the Bruins jumped to a scoring tear fueled by strong defense, producing five consecutive steals which led to productive offensive possessions on their end.
During that stretch, Grayson Murphy knocked down two threes and junior Ben Sheppard provided a dunk along with two highlight-reel-worthy layups.
The Bruins overtook the lead after scoring 13 straight points, and the fire stayed fueled for the remainder of the half.
Freshman guard Will Richard added eight points to the board, including a fast break dunk, as senior Nick Muszynski made his presence known in the low post with a dunk of his own.
On top of that, Sheppard continued to showcase his scoring prowess with more acrobatic baskets, feeding the energy to his teammates.
Following Sheppard’s contagious offensive power, sophomore guard JaCobi Wood and Murphy both added to Belmont’s growing lead.
The Tigers had no answers as the Bruin defense intensified as well, allowing Belmont to enter the half with a comfortable 46-31 lead.
Opening the second half, the Tigers attempted to force a push to get back in the game, but the Bruins just could not stop scoring.
Senior Tate Pierson and sophomore Even Brauns entered off the bench, adding points to help grow Belmont’s lead to 20 just five minutes into the half.
Down the stretch, it seemed as if the Belmont men could score in any way they wished. Layups, 3-pointers, dunks and jump shots: the Bruins connected on them all.
With a victory on the horizon, the Curb’s already rowdy home crowd brought the energy to the next level. And there was much to celebrate for the Belmont men indeed.
Sheppard led the Bruins with 24 points Saturday, making shots from just about everywhere on the court and firing up fans with several powerful dunks.
“He made plays in a variety of ways; he made threes, he made transition shots, he drove it. He’s just really spectacular,” Alexander said of Sheppard.
Overall, Alexander walked away from the game happy that his team could come out and be successful after a tough road loss at Murray State University on Thursday.
Although the Bruins finished on top, Alexander knows that his team must embrace the process as they head into the OVC Tournament next week.
“Every game stands alone,” Alexander said. “Tonight was a much better formula for us to win, but next week, we’ve got to start all over again.”
Senior guard Grayson Murphy making a play against TSU at Saturday’s homecoming game in the Curb Event Center, Feb. 27, 2022. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
On a night where the Belmont community celebrated homecoming, the Bruin men celebrated their five graduate students with a pregame ceremony: Murphy, Muszynski, Pierson, Luke Smith and Caleb Hollander were all well-received by the home fans as they entered the court for the final time.
“It’s hard to put into words what they’ve meant to our program. They’ve generated so much team success and have accumulated so many awards and accomplishments in their time here,” Alexander said.
As for Murphy, he’ll take some time to soak in the moment but then shift his focus to the next stage for Belmont.
“Getting a win tonight was very special,” said Murphy, who totaled 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists in his last game at home. “The past five years in the Curb have meant the world to me.”
Looking ahead, Murphy looks forward to embracing the challenge he and his teammates will face.
“We’ve got a lot of young guys that are going to get some experience next week, they’re excited, the coaches are excited, and us seniors are excited for what’s next,” Murphy said.
PHOTO: Ben Sheppard scoring one several monster dunks at Saturday’s homecoming game in the Curb Event Center, Feb. 27, 2022. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
This article was written by Landen Secrest. Contributory writing and reporting by Reyna Galvez.