Men’s basketball begins OVC play led by young talent
The men’s basketball team wrapped up 2019 with a solid 79-62 win over Western Kentucky University. The Bruins head into 2020 with a record of 9-4 and a goal of winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament for the first time in four years.
Belmont heads into OVC play with some good wins and some ugly losses. The Bruins started off the season with an extremely close loss to Illinois State University and then picked up four straight wins against Samford, Boston College, High Point and a highly anticipated game against Lipscomb.
The Bruins took both Battle of the Boulevard games but dropped games to Saint Louis, Eastern Washington and Alabama. The Bruins were leading at halftime in all games they lost but their loss against the Crimson Tide.
First year head coach Casey Alexander doesn’t fear that some of these early season losses will reflect the team in conference play. “We’re a much more consistent team within the game and from game to game,” said Alexander.
Part of the consistency will most likely come from players like sophomores Adam Kunkel, Grayson Murphy and Nick Muszynski.
Kunkel has exploded as one of the most electric scorers in the Ohio Valley Conference. He is leading the team in points per game averaging 18.1 and scored a career high 34 points against Boston College. His ability to score outside of the perimeter stands out, as he is shooting 43 percent from behind the arc.
“It’s not surprising that he’s playing well, but leading us in scoring and the consistency in which he’s done it have been impressive,” said Alexander. “He’s an aggressive, confident player, so I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t continue to play well.”
Along with Kunkel, Muszynski has been one of the best scorers on the team. Coming off a season winning the OVC Freshman of the Year, he is averaging 15.2 points per game and is leading the team in field goal percentage with 60 percent. Muszynski continues to dominate teams in the paint with his classic hook shot and is averaging 1.6 blocks per game.
But the player that has proven to be the leader on the team has been Grayson Murphy. Murphy came off an excellent freshman season but started off the 2019-2020 season as a player that could score a double-double in assists and rebounds.
Murphy is averaging 8.9 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and 5.6 assists per game. He is taken over the point guard position with unbelievable grace and poise as he helps lead a young team under a new head coach.
“Grayson leads by example more than anything,” said Alexander. “His effort and competitiveness are contagious.”
Along with the young talent, the Bruins have added some depth and experience with graduate transfer Tyler Scanlon. Scanlon has been a fantastic addition to Belmont and has added an offensive threat inside the paint and at the 3-point line. Scanlon is averaging 11 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game is shooting 52 percent from the field.
Even with the solid team, the Bruins will have the OVC Tournament hanging over their head. And with the strength of schedule this season and a weaker OVC, an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament is out of the question this year.
Belmont was picked as the favorite to win the OVC as teams lack Murray State and Jacksonville State lack the star power they won have won with in the past.
Ja Morant is not going to be an issue this year for the Bruins but as always, will still be a good team who wants nothing more but to take the OVC from Belmont. The Racers beat the Bruins the past two years in the OVC Tournament Final but aren’t predicted to be as dominant as they were last year.
Murray State is currently 7-5 but have only beat weak teams like Cumberland, Weber State and Southern Illinois. But the Bruins will be playing the Racers twice this season for the first time ever.
Belmont will also be facing Austin Peay twice this season and will have to play against OVC Preseason Player of the Year Terry Taylor. Taylor is currently averaging 23.1 points per game. The Governors are 6-7 so far with losses against Georgia, Arkansas and West Virginia. Though its record may not reflect it, Austin Peay may be the biggest adversity standing in the way between the Bruins and an OVC championship.
The Bruins will kick-off conference play with games against SIU- Edwardsville Thursday at 7 p.m. and Eastern Illinois on Saturday at 4 p.m..
— Photos by Bronte Lebo.