Bruins’ conference play report card: Week two

Two weeks of Belmont play against Ohio Valley Conference opponents are in the books, meaning it is time for the Belmont Vision’s conference grades. These grades are based on the strength of the opponents featured that week, along with how well each Bruin team played and whether they won or lost the games.

Belmont Men’s Grade: C+

The Bruins finished this two-week stretch 3-1 with wins over Eastern Illinois, SE Missouri State and UT Martin. However, the one glaring loss to a reeling SIU-Edwardsville team is the biggest detriment to their grade this week.

SIUE was able to slow the game down, holding Belmont to their second lowest scoring output all season, 79-69. They struggled to get outside jumpshots to fall, shooting an abysmal 22 percent on 36 total attempts.

They also managed to out rebound the Bruins 46 to 35, limiting the Bruins’ attempts at second chance points and sophomore Nick Muszynski’s total impact.

This was their first conference opponent of the season, and it was a worrying start. SIUE managed to match up well with Belmonts size inside, while also frustrating Bruin guards. They illuminated weaknesses that have plagued the Bruins all season — the main weakness being trying to find another way to score when the 3-point game begins to fail.

Belmont needed a new strategy, and they found it playing Eastern Illinois. They chose to go to Muszynski early, and it paid off. He had his best game all week with 25 points and 16 rebounds. EIU had no true big man to match up with his size down low, resulting in a game where he shot 76 percent from the field.

The Bruins are a different team when they play through Muszynski. His presence deep in the paint draws heavy defense, resulting in open looks for Belmont’s shooter, sophomore Adam Kunkle and graduate transfer Tyler Scanlon. They each finished with three 3-pointers a piece, making the Bruins difficult to guard, not just for EIU, but for any Division I team.

One pleasant surprise for the Bruins has been Caleb Hollander. Coming into conference play he was barely averaging above 3 points per game. However, in four total conference games he is averaging 8.5 points off the bench, with double digit scoring outputs 10 points against UT Martin and 13 points against SEMO.

For the Bruins’ grade to improve, more consistent play is needed. They can’t drop games against opponents they are heavily favored to beat.

For the week of January 13, they have home games against EKU and Morehead State — two teams the Bruins match up well against.

Belmont Women’s Grade: C+

The women’s team started their first two weeks of conference play on a three-game win streak ahead of their fourth conference matchup against UT Martin. They were less successful, however, as UTM handed them their first OVC loss of the season.

Belmont began the decade with a statement against SIUE in a 21-point blowout. Senior Ellie Harmeyer recorded her first double-double in conference play with 22 points and 13 rebounds.

All season, she has been a machine when it comes to impacting the games on the glass. And if Belmont wants to win when the outside jump shots aren’t falling, rebounding is key.

The Bruins’ defense has been a strong point all season, and in the first weeks of conference play, that hasn’t changed. On average they have held opponents to 48 points. Their average margin of victory in conference play is 19 points.

UT Martin provided Belmont a look at the areas they need to improve in. The team’s performance is usually in line with Harmeyer’s, and she was in foul trouble the entire first half, taking her out of the natural rhythm of the game. She finished with only 13 points and 5 rebounds, while shooting 40 percent from the field and 25 percent from the 3-point line.

Another telling area of the game against UT Martin was Belmont’s ability to defend Chelsey Perry, who is arguably one of the best scorers this season in the OVC. Belmont was unable to slow her onslaught, as she finished with 34 points.

With this Belmont team, there seems to be more questions than answers. Someone outside of Harmeyer needs to shoulder the offensive load.

Sophomore Jamilyn Kinney has shown glimpses of what she is capable of doing in terms of offense, including 14 points and four threes in their previous outing. Consistency is the key for the Belmont supporting cast going forward in the OVC.

For their grade to improve going into the next week of conference play, they need to continue the defensive effort and refocus after a tough loss. If the supporting cast can offer Harmeyer more help, this Bruin team will be dangerous.

For the week of January 13, they play EKU and Morehead State at home — two middle-of-the-road teams in the OVC.

Article written by Ian Kayanja. Photo by Bronte Lebo.

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