Updated: Jun 27
Belmont’s tournament run came to a dramatic end against Morehead State University Friday night after a game-winning shot that didn’t count.
Ranked No. 2 in the Ohio Valley Conference, Belmont’s men’s basketball lost the OVC tournament semifinal game 51-53 in Evansville, Indiana. The No.3-seeded Eagles defeated Belmont at last season’s OVC championship 86-71 .
The stakes were high for both teams, with the game determining who would advance to the championship and who would return home.
“It’s a super important week for us, we’re just taking it game by game,” junior guard Ben Sheppard said before leaving for the Evansville tournament Wednesday. “Seeing how the conference tournament plays out, we’re very attentive to detail at practice.”
After a slow offensive start from both sides, the Eagles struck first as guard Jake Wolfe delivered a 3-pointer, jumping Morehead to a 3-0 lead.
Belmont attempted to respond but was unable to execute as several scoring opportunities failed in the following minutes.
After another downed three from Morehead, the Bruins found themselves in a bind as they were suddenly trailing 10-5.
From there, the Belmont defense was able to come alive, preventing the Eagles from scoring and getting into the layup game as graduate students Nick Muszynski and Grayson Murphy stepped it up.
With just over six minutes remaining in the half, Belmont came back to force Morehead with a tight 1-point lead thanks to a jump shot from freshman guard Will Richard, making the score 16-15.
Executing on Belmont turnovers, the Eagles continued to compete, however, as players Skylear Potter, Tray Hollowell and Johni Broome each cashed in their own shots to further the Bruins’ deficit into halftime.
Starting out the second half with a 30-21 lead, the Eagles looked to finish off Belmont.
They didn’t manage this with ease, though, as junior Ben Sheppard brought big moves for the Bruins with a 3-point downer four minutes into the half.
Sheppard’s 3-pointer marked the beginning of a momentum shift for the Bruins as he, Richard and Muszynski continued cashing in, tightening the score.
With 9:50 remaining, Belmont took its first lead of the contest as Muszynski finessed a lay up, making the score 40-39.
At this point, Belmont fans and spirited students in the Ford Center were ecstatic.
Down by one, Hollowell drained a shot behind the arc but Richard responded accordingly by firing back a three of his own, reclaiming the Belmont lead.
Coming down to the wire, it was anyone’s game as the lead seesawed for the next several minutes.
After a layup from Murphy to tie the game at 46-all with 5:03 remaining, Muszynski kept pushing until the end.
After an Eagles 3-pointer from Broome, Belmont trailed 53-51 with just over a minute before the buzzer.
It was crunch time.
Time kept trickling away as Morehead took the ball, but a Richard steal with 20 seconds remaining gave hope to the Bruins.
Seven seconds to go, Sheppard took a 3-point shot, connecting perfectly in the net.
The shot didn’t count.
“I was calling timeouts to the referee right in front of me well before we even lost the ball,” head coach Casey Alexander said. “While we lost the ball, when we got the ball back and when the pass was made was when he blew his whistle, so there shouldn’t have been any problem.”
“I bet I started calling it with 16 seconds to go on the clock.”
Just 7.5 seconds remaining, Wood passed to Muszynski in the middle.
Muszynski to Murphy, Murphy to Sheppard, Sheppard to Muszynski.
Muszynski took a shot blocked by Broome, ending the game.
Morehead will now play Murray State University at the Ford Center Saturday night for the OVC Championship.
“These moments are never any fun,” Alexander said.
“It was a tough game, we knew it was going to be a tough game. There’s no doubt about that. You never know what form or shape a game is going to take. We quickly learned in this one that it was going to take the same shape as the last one that we played.”
Belmont standouts were Sheppard, with 19 points and five steals; Muszynski, with 14 points; and Richard, with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Overall, Belmont struggled all night in distance shooting, going only 2-12 behind the arc.
“It’s hard to explain,” Alexander said. “We got good shooters but it’s just been an epidemic.”
“Belmont needs to be in the tournament. That’s what our expectation ought to be. Everybody that pulls for Belmont ought to be disappointed that we’re not.”
PHOTO: … . Landen Secrest / Belmont Vision
This article was written by A.J. Wuest.