Updated: 4 days ago
Belmont claimed a statement win 78-61 against the SIU Edwardsville Cougars Wednesday night, giving the Bruins the confidence they needed after losing two straight ahead of the postseason.
“I’m pleased with our team. Coming off a tough weekend where we didn’t play as well as we needed to play, I felt like our players were renewed, reenergized and playing with the right mentality,” said head coach Casey Alexander.
After their first win since Feb. 20, four individual players contributed double figures to aid their win, including freshman JaCobi Wood, who put up a game high 19 points while shooting 5-9 in the first postseason game of his career.
Junior Caleb Hollander had a career night as well, putting up 17 points going 7-14 from the field, in the best scoring game of his postseason career.
Junior Grayson Murphy performed as usual, putting up a near triple double with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He was followed by junior Luke Smith who had one of his best nights in weeks, putting up 10 points going 4-9 from the field and 2-6 from three.
Coming off an injury, junior Nick Muszynski had a fairly night after he only put up one basket each half. Though his offensive efforts were missed, he contributed in other ways by grabbing four rebounds and closing the floor for the Bruins in the post, a facor the Bruins desperately needed in their two straight losses prior to the tournament.
“Our team is much more comfortable when he’s in the game,” said Alexander. “Even if he’s not giving up big numbers he commands so much of the defense’s attention.”
As a collective, the Bruins first game jitters showed as they quickly committed fouls and sloppy turnovers to start the game. However, Caleb Hollander was there to keep them in the game after putting up 11 of the Bruins first 16 points over the first seven minutes.
Hollander took care of the ball, and hustled for rebounds on both ends of the floor, creating opportunities for his team any chance he got.
His spark transferred into the rest of his team’s game shortly after, as the Bruins went on a 9-0 run over the next eight minutes to put the Bruins on top 21-13 midway through the half.
Hollander continued to add to the Bruins’ lead, including a three that put the Bruins up by double figures for the first time – a lead that would stick for the remainder of the game.
To finish the half Wood thought it was the perfect time to shoot his heart out, putting up three triples from behind the arc that extended Belmont’s lead to 43-30 at half. His efforts helped the Bruins go six of their last seven to end the half up by 13.
As a team, the Bruins shot 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from behind the arc, going 8-18 — an effort led by Wood, who put up three of their eight triples.
The Bruins also hustled to out-rebound SIUE 23-9, with 13 defensive rebounds and 10 offensive rebounds that turned into 12 second chance points for the Bruins.
Hollander led both teams with a game-high 14 points on the half shooting 6-10, and also grabbing four rebounds.
Murphy and Hollander carried the Bruins’ energy into the second half, combining for the team’s first nine. Smith and freshman Even Brauns picked up the energy for the next two minutes going on a 6-0 run to extend their lead to nearly 20.
Quickly after, the Cougars went on a run of their own that gave them a chance to bring their deficit within 10, but a stop helped Belmont keep their distance.
To wake them up, Wood put up his final three of the night, energizing the team and sending them on a 10 run that sealed the first-round win for the Bruins 78-61.
The Bruins ended the night totaling 46.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the arc while also outrebounding the Cougars 43 to 25. Belmont’s hustle to get to the ball on both ends of the floor created 18 second chance points to help the Bruins seal their win.
Belmont will advance to the semi-finals on Friday, to take on the winner of Thursday night’s matchup of Jacksonville State and Murray State. Tip off is slated for 7 p.m.
This article written by Julieann Challacombe. Photo courtesy of the OVC.