Adam Kunkel dropped 27 points to lead the Bruins to a 80-75 win in the second Battle of the Boulevard after trailing the Bisons at halftime at the Curb Event Center on Tuesday night.
“I’m thankful that Kunk bailed us out,” said head coach Casey Alexander. “He’s a guy that likes the moment and obviously the numbers speak for themselves and he’s been really good and important for us this season.”
Along with Kunkel’s great performance, graduate transfer Tyler Scanlon scored 13 while rebounding and assisting six. Sophomore center
Nick Muszynski scored 14 points and rebounded four after being doubled-teamed in the post for a majority of the first half. But Muszynski surprised the Lipscomb defense after hitting two 3-pointers.
“When the big kid steps out and hits two threes you have a real problem,” said Lipscomb head coach Lennie Acuff.
Nick Hopkins scored 11 points off the bench, including two win-securing free throws with just seconds left in the game.
Senior Michael Benkert stepped up and had one of his best games of the season as he scored 8 points, shot 2-5 from three and rebounded nine in Tuesday’s win.
The Bruins pick up this win after a tough road trip after losing to Saint Louis University and Eastern Washington University and then beating Middle Tennessee in another comeback.
Within the first few minutes of the game, it seemed that both teams picked up where they left off on Nov. 20 at Allen Arena.
Like in the first matchup, the Bruins failed to hit a 3-pointer in the first 12 minutes of the game. The Bruins were 0-7 from behind the arc 10 minutes into the first half.
The Bruins and Bisons were going back and forth, picking up rebounds and trying to capitalize on each team’s poor shots.
Belmont led early in the first half but after a few missed 3-pointers, but Bison Michael Buckland drained a three to give Lipscomb a 15-14 lead with 14 minutes to go.
Lipscomb continued to succeed on the Bruins mistakes which included turnovers from Kunkel, Seth Adelsperger and Caleb Hollander. The Bisons even led by 8 points with under 9 minutes to go.
After 3-pointers from Kunkel, Scanlon and Benkert, the Bruins clawed their way back to only trail 38-36 at the end of the first half.
The second was a different story as the Bruins came out with back-to-back three’s from Kunkel and Muszkynski when the Bruins took a 42-40 lead and would never surrender it for the remainder of the game.
Lipscomb’s Andrew Flemming played a fantastic game scoring 20 points.
The closest the Bisons got to tying the game up was with just under 10 minutes to go when they trailed Belmont 50-49.
But Kunkel’s 13 points and Muszynksi’s 10 points in the second half gave the Bruins the win and bragging rights on Belmont Boulevard.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it’s always better to win than to lose,” said coach Alexander.
The Bruins have struggled both on defense and giving up a lot of points late in the first half the past few games. Alexander says the team still needs to find its identity as they prepare for conference play in just about a month.
“I think we have a lot of good offensive players and we got some guys that can make contributions like tonight,” said Alexander. “Our games probably have 170 possessions, and there’s too many of the 170 where we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. And that’s what this game is, it’s minimizing mistakes.
The Bruins improve their record to 6-3 as the take the week off for finals, but coach Alexander is excited to take a break and concentrate on practicing before they’re next game.
“They’re probably not as excited as I am about the next 8 days where we don’t have games and we can practice,” Alexander said. “We need it, desperately.”
Belmont’s next two games will be a little easier than their past four as they face Division II school Carsen-Newman on Dec. 11 at the Curb and then the struggling Kennesaw State University a week later on Dec. 18.
Photos by Colby Crosby.