The Belmont men’s basketball team opened their first home game of the new year with a 77-66 win against the Southeast Missouri Redhawks on Thursday night.
Despite the Bruins’ lack of conviction behind the arc, they found efficiency under the basket fueled by a stellar performance from junior Nick Muszynski. Belmont totaled 48.4 percent from the field and 20 percent from three.
“We had different players step up throughout the game,” said coach Casey Alexander. “And Nick Muszynski was outstanding down the stretch for us.”
Muszynski displayed immense composure in foul trouble to finish with 26 points on the night. He went 9-14 and put up 16 of his 26 in the second half.
Although junior Luke Smith went a mere 2-6 from three, he made up for his mishaps by taking it to the basket – he finished with 12 points on the night.
Off the bench, freshman JaCobi Wood made substantial contributions with 11 points going 5-8. Junior Grayson Murphy made a notable contribution as well. Although he nearly hit double figures with eight points, Murphy one again showed fans his work ethic all over the floor with nine rebounds, two steals and a block.
The Bruins faced intense defensive pressure from the Redhawks in the opening minutes of the half. However due in most part to Grayson Murphy’s six straight baskets, the Bruins put themselves on the board with a 10-0 run – the score being 10-2.
A short break didn’t stop the Bruins’ offensive momentum, as they continue to remain synchronous and efficient under the basket. The Redhaws, though, found ways to match their energy, putting up similar numbers and keeping their deficit within five.
Back to back steals then gave the Bruins some wiggle room, extending their lead to 22-14 with just under eight minutes to go. The final minutes of the half were kinder to the Redhawks, after the Bruins lost the momentum it established for most of the half.
Turnovers and missed attempts allowed the Redhawks to take their first lead since the opening minute of the half, the score being 35-33 at the buzzer.
Muszynski ended the half as the Bruins’ leading scorer with 10 points. Murphy and sophomore Ben Sheppard combined for five steals in the first half, which contributed to their extensive opening run.
The Bruins uncharacteristically went 1-10 from behind the arc after the Redhawks made it nearly impossible to find a good look. Collectively, the Bruins made up for it finding their numbers under the basket, shooting 48 percent from the field.
The Bruins’ finally found a glimmer of hope behind the arc, as Sheppard put up a three to open the second half. On that note, the Bruins continued on a 7-0 run that put them up by 10. including a three from Smith, his first of the night.
Belmont continued to keep a comfortable lead until the Redhawks put it in danger with a 6-0 run in the final minutes of the game. Turnovers, scoring droughts and foul trouble set the Bruins back. Bringing the score to a close 64-60 Belmont lead with three minutes to go.
Despite a quiet night behind the arc from Smith, he was able to deliver a long three that shortly relieved Belmont’s bench. From there Smith and Muszynski, who had four fouls to worry about, took it away – driving to the basket, and at times drawing fouls. Their efforts in the final minutes of the game sealed the Bruins’ eighth straight win at 77-66.
Though things didn’t look so good for Belmont at certain times, Alexander is more than proud of his team’s ability to collectively step up to the plate.
“Some things to work on — but I love our team, how hard they compete and how hard they play for each other.”
The Bruins have a two day break before they finish out their two-game series on Jan. 9 against the UT Martin Skyhawks. Tip off is slated for 4 p.m.
This article written by Julieann Challacombe.