Coming off a six-game road trip, Belmont men’s basketball finally returned to the Curb Event Center for the first time in nearly a month on Thursday night.
In the squad’s first Missouri Valley Conference contest, the Bruins squared off against Valparaiso University. The game aired on ESPNU.
Belmont won 76-64, improving its overall record to 5-3.
After a shaky first four games of the season, in which the team experienced a three-game losing streak, head coach Casey Alexander believes his team is beginning to find its identity.
“We’ve played eight games now, so you’re going to get better over time, but we still have a lot to figure out and we got a lot to clean up,” Alexander said. “But I like where we are and where we’re going.”
Led by graduate forward Drew Friberg and senior guard EJ Bellinger, the Bruins did what they do best – shoot three pointers.
Combined, the two players downed 10 threes. Friberg finished the night with 20 points while Bellinger finished with 14 off the bench.
Double-digit points also came from freshman forward Cade Tyson with 15 and senior guard Ben Sheppard with 13.
Overall, the Bruins outshot the Beacons, finishing the night at 44% from behind the arc compared to Valparaiso’s 12.5%.
“We struggled to get into a rhythm offensively all night and Drew goes six for 11 from three, and he really is the one who gave us the margin. That’s 13 threes over the last two games, so it’s pretty good,” Alexander said.
Starting off the game, the lead seesawed between both teams for the first seven minutes. But when Sheppard hit a three to give the Bruins a 17-14 lead, the team began heating up.
With 9:10 remaining in the half, Bellinger drained his first three of the game.
After a key defensive rebound from junior forward Michael Shanks, senior guard Keishawn Davidson followed suit with a nice jumper to give Belmont a 24-18 lead.
A minute later, Friberg splashed in another three to cushion the Bruin lead.
Thanks to a substantial defensive performance from Belmont, the Bruins finished the first half leading 33-27.
The Bruins continued their three-point shooting trend in the second half.
Midway through the second 20 minutes of action, Friberg connected on three shots from deep range in a two-minute span, giving the Bruins a 51-37 lead.
Despite the margin, the Beacons kept fighting.
After jumpers from Valparaiso’s Ben Krikke and Kobe King and a layup from Krikke, the Beacons shortened the Bruin lead to six with under seven minutes remaining.
But Sheppard and the Bruins kept the threes coming and responded with another long-range ball.
Shortly after, Tyson was fouled before downing a pair of free throws to extend Belmont’s lead to 11.
The final five minutes of the game ended with four Belmont threes – two from Bellinger and one each from Sheppard and Tyson.
With the win, the Bruins now ride a four-game win streak.
The team will look to pick up its second conference win in Normal, Illinois when it tips off against Illinois State University on Sunday afternoon.
“We’re not satisfied with this win. It felt good, but we’ve got a long way to go so we’re ready for that,” Bellinger said.
This article was written by A.J. Wuest