After defeating Trevecca Nazarene University on Dec 6., Belmont men’s basketball welcomed another in-state rival – Middle Tennessee State University – to the Curb Event Center on Saturday night.
In an even-scored game through two halves, the Blue Raiders prevailed over the Bruins 85-75 in overtime, outscoring Belmont 15 to five in the extra period.
“It was probably a fun game to watch,” head coach Casey Alexander said. “I really felt like we were just trying to survive, swimming upstream the whole second half, it was men and boys in a lot of ways.”
After a deep 3-pointer from senior Ben Sheppard tied the game at 70 to end regulation, Belmont only made one field goal for the remainder of the game.
Sheppard experienced shooting woes early in the game, missing his first three field goal attempts and his first two free throws. The leading scorer didn’t find the net until the 8:35 mark in the first half.
Graduate sharpshooter Drew Friberg didn’t make a shot in the first half, yet the Bruins continued to weather the storm.
Freshman Cade Tyson led Belmont with 10 points at halftime, with Sheppard not far behind with eight points on 2-6 from the field and the same percentage from the free throw line.
Tealfale Lenard Jr. was a steady presence for the visitors.
With nine points and five of the teams’ seven first half blocks, Lenard headlined the Blue Raiders’ offense and defense.
At halftime, the two teams entered their locker rooms tied at 30.
The Bruins, however, almost immediately found their shooting stroke in the second half.
“We had to have a great night and shoot it great just to stay in the game,” Alexander said. “Our guys kept playing hard and they found a way.”
Sheppard drained a 3-pointer just eight seconds into the action, and Friberg followed suit a minute later with one of his own.
The tandem connected on four more 3s within the first eight minutes, but the Bruins couldn’t separate.
Playing without junior center Even Brauns, the Bruins were missing a big part of their inside game plan.
“He’s really established himself as a good defender,” Alexander said. “He would’ve helped us for sure.”
To fill the void, the Bruins primarily had junior Frank Jakubicek on the inside.
After missing seven weeks with an injury, he had “no business” playing the minutes he did, Alexander said.
MTSU gave Belmont a steady diet of forward DeAndre Dishman throughout the game. The 6’6, 235-pound big man had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
His performance proved to be a big reason why the Blue Raiders outscored the Bruins 50-14 in the paint for the game.
For Belmont, Friberg and Sheppard did most of the scoring down the stretch, a complete reversal of how the game started.
“In any 40-minute game, it’s so rare for somebody to play well the whole time,” Alexander said
. Friberg did his damage from three, knocking down four 3-pointers in the second half, finishing the game with 12 points.
Sheppard seemingly couldn’t miss from behind the arc, as he downed six of his eight 3s in the second half.
But that was not the case from the free throw line as Sheppard struggled, shooting 5-15 from the line.
Although he scored a season-high 33 points, those shooting struggles remain an area of concern.
“For good shooters, it’s almost an entirely mental scenario,” Alexander said. “We shoot plenty of free throws and I guarantee he makes nearly 90% of free throws in practice.”
After Sheppard went 1-2 from the line, Belmont gained a 67-66 lead with less than a minute remaining.
The ball found Lenard Jr’s hand with 14.6 seconds left and he connected on a go-ahead layup.
MTSU’s Camryn Weston made both free throws which meant Belmont had to make a 3-pointer in 2.6 seconds to tie.
After Sheppard’s clutch 3-point buzzer beater to force overtime, Belmont ran out of gas.
An Isaiah Walker layup was the only Belmont field goal made in the extra period; three other points were free throws.
With the loss, Belmont drops to 6-5 overall.
"When the other team is playing with a more physical presence and kind of taking it to you, you’ve got to execute at a really high level and just kind of ran out,” Alexander said.
The Bruins will face another in-state rival when they travel to face the University of Tennessee Chattanooga on Dec. 18. This article was written by Landen Secrest.