A clutch performance by junior Caleb Hollander in the final minutes helped the Bruins scrape by the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on Thursday night.
With just minutes to go, Hollander trail blazed past the Gamecocks’ defensive front on a mission to keep Belmont’s win streak alive. He finished the night with a team high 18 points and eight rebounds while going 6-14 from the floor. The Bruins now advance to 23-1 on the season and extended their win streak to 20.
Close behind was junior Nick Muszynski who showed out in the post with 16 points and six rebounds going 8-13.
The Bruins lost the battle at first tip, but won it back with a game-opening steal by Smith. After a quick reset at the top of the key, the Bruins sent the ball inside to Muszynski for the first two off the glass.
The Gamecocks opened up their offense with a three, but Hollander had an answer with a highly contested layup to draw the foul and shoot one. From that point, the Bruins would show no sign of momentum for the remainder of the half.
After putting on a tight defensive front, the Gamecocks held the Bruins to hit none of their next four shots. After their two minute drought, Coach Casey Alexander had seen enough, using their first timeout less than five minutes into the game.
Coming out of the timeout, the Gamecocks continued to play with conviction on both ends of the floor, holding the Bruins to hit only one of their next five shots while adding to their own lead.
The Bruins continued to struggle as, seemingly, they received their first taste of intense competition for the first time in weeks. The Gamecocks’ defense so far had been impenetrable, causing Alexander to use yet another timeout after their third scoring drought of the game.
The tone remained the same throughout the half, with the Bruins struggling to create any kind of momentum on the offensive end, forcing them to use their defense as the only way to stay in the game. With the score at halftime being 27-22.
Muszynski owned half of the Bruins tally, putting up a team high 10 points shooting 5-7 in the post against Gamecock powerhouse Brandon Huffman.
The Gamecock were successful, however in guarding Murphy, after they held him to just two points, going 1-6 from the field.
The Bruins collectively ended the half with some of the worst numbers of the season, shooting 28 percent from the field and going 0-16 from behind the arc.
Muszynski managed to get through Jacksonville’s defensive press in the post for two baskets to open the half, however any attempt beyond the paint came up dry. Meanwhile, the Gamecock continued on their blazing mission to snap the Bruins double digit win streak.
With the flip of a switch, the Bruins changed the game after going on a 7-0 run that turned a nearly 10 point deficit to just one point at 42-41 Gamecocks.
Belmont continued to rally along their newfound momentum, making defensive stops that turned into points on the other end of the floor. However, the Gamecocks rained on top 49-47 with just under eight minutes to go.
Shortly after, the Bruins once again found themselves in a rut as the Gamecocks showed no mercy on the offensive end. That was until the Bruins went on a 10-0 run including a clutch steal by Murphy and a three point play on the other end of the floor from Hollander that gave the Bruins their first lead of the game at 59-53 with 90 seconds to go.
The Gamecocks answered with a couple of basket attempts that resulted in free throws to bring the game back within one possession. The Bruins then had the ball with no shot clock and a three point lead.
The Gamecocks continued to guard the Bruins with high contention, however Belmont prevailed with a fighting spirit – the final score being 63-59.
Collectively, the Bruins put on one of their worst winning performances of the season after shooting 39 percent from the field and 12 percent from behind the arc. The Bruins were saved by their performance in the paint after putting up 42 of their 63 total points there, and shooting 3-26 from three.
Next, the Bruins will play their final game at home against the Tennessee Tech Goldeneagles. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m.
This article written by Julieann Challacombe.