Men’s basketball grabs crucial win, chasing Morehead State down to the wire
Facing a must-win situation in order to stay alive in the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season race, Belmont edged out Morehead State 48-47 to capture its No. 2 rank.
After falling short in the previous three contests with the Eagles, including last year’s OVC Championship game, the Bruins sought revenge Thursday night, extending their win streak to seven games.
“Anytime you’ve got the reigning champs coming to your home court, you’ve got to defend it,” graduate student guard Grayson Murphy said.
Going into the matchup, Belmont ranked third in the conference, and the team knew it needed to handle business.
The Bruins trailed for 38 minutes, causing fans to experience an emotional rollercoaster in the Curb Event Center.
After early baskets from Morehead State players Johni Broome and Tray Hollowell, the Eagles jumped to a quick 7-2 lead in the opening minutes, establishing clear momentum.
Meanwhile, the Bruins struggled to find the basket on offense.
Morehead State continued to pressure but was unsuccessful in running away as its largest first-half lead only reached six points.
Providing a spark for the Bruins, senior forward Tate Pierson entered off the bench midway through the half and immediately downed a 3-point shot.
From there, freshman guard Will Richard led the charge as the Bruins continued to cut closer to the lead.
Still, Morehead State kept its feet down as Eagles guard Skyelar Potter and Hollowell each nailed a 3-point basket to wrap up the half.
Trailing to Morehead 29-22 at halftime, last game’s super-scorer Ben Sheppard started the second half in an exciting fashion.
The junior guard rose up for a baseline dunk, energizing his teammates and the fans in the Curb.
Despite Belmont’s early fortune, the Eagles didn’t budge.
Within the first seven minutes of play in the half, Morehead State extended its lead to 10 points. The Bruins needed to find some life on both ends of the floor to keep the hopes of a comeback alive.
Richard provided the help Belmont needed on offense with several timely baskets, helping the Bruins chip away at the lead.
Belmont’s scoring came alive, the defense also began to find its stride as Morehead State started to freeze offensively.
After a dry spell for both teams lasting nearly three minutes, fans in the Curb became restless. Both teams had yet to reach 40 points midway through the second half.
Lighting the fire again for Belmont’s offense, Richard ended the scoring drought with two free throws.
Over the next two minutes, Pierson drained another 3-pointer while forward Frank Jakubicek converted a smooth up-and-under layup to bring the Bruins within two points.
With under six minutes left, Morehead and Belmont traded baskets as the Bruins crept within one point.
Belmont grabbed its first lead of the night when graduate student center Nick Muszynski nailed a hook shot with two minutes remaining, energizing the Bruin fanbase.
A few possessions later, however, Broome sank two free throws to give Morehead State the lead 47-46.
With just 12 seconds left on the clock, Sheppard stole the ball to give Belmont one last chance to win.
The ball then found Murphy’s hands.
“Coach told me to go get the ball, and I looked up and there were about 10 seconds left,” Murphy said. “I had room to drive, drove it hard, and I guess you can say I made a Caleb Hollander type floater.”
Teammate Hollander and the rest of the bench were quickly on their feet to celebrate the late lead.
No. 2 Grayson Murphy balling out on the Curb Event Center court Thursday, Feb. 10. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
After the Eagles’ last-second heave proved unsuccessful, Murphy’s shot held up as the game-winner for the Bruins.
“It was the ugliest best game of all time,” Belmont head coach Casey Alexander said. “Dog fight, street fight. It was just an exhausting game.”
Richard brought all-around energy for the Bruins and led the team in scoring with 16 points.
“He had a little swagger to him. He came on a mission,” Alexander said. “He played like he belonged, there was no doubt and there shouldn’t be because he’s really good.”
Muszynski was another bright spot for Belmont racking up 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks, primarily facing off against Broome, who scored 15 points.
With the win, Belmont overtakes Morehead as No. 2 in the OVC.
“It was great to get this win because they’re really good and we wanted to have a chance to win a conference championship,” Alexander said.
“We’ve never finished worse than first or second in the OVC, and we had to win this to keep that streak going.”
The Bruins will travel to face Southeast Missouri State University on Saturday.
PHOTO: No. 4 Will Richard celebrating with men’s basketball fans after the Bruins’ victory over Morehead State. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
This article was written by Landen Secrest.