Closing out the calendar year in good fashion, Belmont men’s basketball hosted Bradley University on Wednesday night for its second Missouri Valley Conference game inside the Curb Event Center.
Facing one of the league’s top competitors, the Bruins battled and escaped with a 63-60 victory thanks to late game heroics from senior Keishawn Davidson and freshman Ja’Kobi Gillespie.
“Finding a way to win was just huge for our team,” Alexander said. “I love the way that we came together and competed.”
Without their second leading scorer Cade Tyson, who was inactive due to illness, Belmont needed to find different ways to generate offense.
The Bruins nailed their first four 3-point attempts to jump to an early lead, but the Braves continued to fight.
Bradley’s tandem of 6'9 forwards Reink Mast and Malevy Leons helped the visitors establish an inside presence throughout the game.
But Alexander said his team’s big man trio did a nice job of containing the two forwards.
“Defensively I thought we really held our own, they were 10-26 on field goals together so it’s hard to complain about that,” Alexander said.
Mast scored 10 first-half points while Leons added seven to help give the Braves a 38-34 lead at half.
For Belmont, Davidson and graduate Drew Friberg each scored nine points, but the Bruins went scoreless in the final three minutes of the half and committed four turnovers.
Bradley came out firing in the second half as it quickly increased the margin to nine points when Belmont’s offense went dry.
Needing to cut into the lead with 12 minutes to go, the Bruins turned to what they know best – 3-point shooting.
Friberg nailed a set of 3s and three more free throws, helping the Bruins crawl back.
Senior Ben Sheppard also got into the mix as Belmont chipped away at the lead.
The Bruins’ first lead of the second half came on a layup from Sheppard with just over six minutes to go.
Leons brought the Braves back, giving the visitors a 60-59 lead as crunch time approached.
The Bruins needed a bucket.
With 43 seconds remaining, Davidson worked his magic.
As the shot clock ticked down, he drove left and connected on a floater to give Belmont the one-point lead.
“I love his confidence and how he’s playing,” Alexander said. “His numbers don’t reflect how well he played; he was put into some really tough spots.”
After a missed hook shot from Mast, the Bruins gained possession and seemed to be in the clear.
As Friberg looked to inbound the ball and seal the game, the Bradley defense nearly forced a five-second violation.
Then, No. 12 channeled his inner Tom Brady and found a receiver on the other end of the court.
Gillespie climbed the ladder for a catch over the Bradley defender and finished off the night with an exclamation point dunk.
“We didn’t draw it up that way, but it was a huge play for him and we’re lucky it worked out like it did,” Alexander said of the former high school star wide receiver.
Bradley’s final two attempts were unsuccessful, including a Connor Hickman 3-pointer that went halfway down and out.
Alexander said he’s happy to end the year on a positive note as the team heads full steam into conference play when the new year approaches.
“It’s going to be like this,” Alexander said. “Give our guys a lot of credit playing without Cade and coming back after getting down nine in the second half.”
The Bruins currently ride a three-game winning streak and overall 9-5 record heading into 2023.
After the win, the Bruins will travel to face off against Southern Illinois University on Jan. 1.
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer.