Casey Alexander proved he could lead Belmont to victory as he beat his former school at the Allen Arena Monday night.
In a close match, the men’s basketball team beat Lipscomb University 73-67 at the Battle of the Boulevard.
All eyes were on Alexander pregame as he entered Lipscomb’s court for the first time since he left the Bisons for Belmont in April.
After a brief, uncomfortable silence and a couple jeers, fans turned their attention to the game.
Casey Alexander in his first game back at Allen Arena since joining the Bruins in April.
No lead was safe for the Bruins as a 1-3 Lipscomb team fought against Belmont in a game that came down to the last 5 seconds.
The Bisons kept it tight throughout the entire first half and shot 42 percent from the field. The Bruins struggled immensely at the 3-point line as it took the men over 11 minutes to drain a three from sophomore Tate Pierson. The Bruins finished the first half 3-17 from behind the arc and only shot 33 percent from the field.
“I’ll give Lipscomb some credit but we definitely weren’t our best selves tonight,” said Alexander. “But we’ll learn from it, and it’ll definitely help us. We’re not going to take this for granted anymore than we didn’t take the win for granted at Boston College.”
Lipscomb played extremely physically all game, forcing turnovers and mistakes the Bruins usually don’t make. It was clear the Bruins were in trouble when the Bisons hit a buzzer beater layup to end the half which gave them a 33-32 lead.
“Everytime we play each other it’s a battle either way,” said sophomore Grayson Murphy. “That’s what you can expect. It’s going to be a grind for 40 minutes and that’s what it was tonight.”
The Bruins had not trailed at halftime all season until playing their boulevard rival. But strong fundamentals, alongside a few quick buckets and a handful of missed buckets from Lipscomb, allowed the Bruins to go on a 14-2 run in the first 5 minutes of the second half. This gave Belmont a 46-35 lead which never got within 8 points, until the final 2 minutes, where the Bisons got within 4 points.
The Bruins’ issue in the first half was not hitting the three. In the second half, it was fouling. The Bruins fouled 14 times in the second and allowed the Bisons to score 14 points off 22 free throw attempts.
“Their running isolation plays from the wing and driving it down our throats and the way the game is called now, it’s hard to play one-on-one without fouling,” said Alexander. “But you just have to man up and do it. It’s about all you can do and they really exposed us there.”
Belmont finished the night shooting 39 percent from the field and picked up 17 offensive rebounds.
Even with a few flaws in the Bruins’ game, Belmont players came through with some big numbers which showed toughness and determination, especially from some underclassmen.
Murphy once again proved to be the best player on the court as he recorded his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Murphy continued to show off his speed and ability to run the offense in both easy wins and extremely tough match ups.
Alexander admitted how important Murphy is and saw how impressive it is for a point guard to rebound as much as he is.
“You can’t do it as the point guard unless you want to go get it, and he’s done it consistently now for however many games we’ve played,” said Alexander.
Sophomore Nick Muszynski played another stellar game, scoring 16 points and rebounding 7. Muszynksi continued to own the paint with his physicality, his ability to box out defenders and make a reverse layup look like the norm.
Pierson and freshman Ben Sheppard both scored 7 points and played solid defense when needed. Pierson broke the ice when he scored the Bruins’ first two 3-pointers in the first half.
Rising sophomore star Adam Kunkel came up clutch behind the arc in the second half, shooting 2-4 from 3 and scoring 12 points with 16 points overall.
Graduate transfer Tyler Scanlon had one of his best games of the season as he scored 9 points and rebounded seven with 31 minutes played. Scanlon continued to offer leadership and stability to a young team.
The numbers were equally as impressive on the Bisons’ bench as an extremely young and inexperienced team put up some big numbers against a hot Belmont team.
Even with 9-1 run with under 5 minutes to go, as well as efforts from the Bisons’ KJ Johnson, Ahsan Asudullah and Andrew Fleming were not enough to give them a win over their former coach. Johnson scored 16 points and five boards while Fleming scored 18 and rebounded five as well. Asudullah scored 9 but picked up a whopping 15 rebounds.
The Bruins’ record improves to 4-1 as they get ready to take on Saint Louis University on Saturday while the Bisons fall to 1-4.
The second edition of the Battle of the Boulevard will take place at the Curb Event Center on Dec. 3 as the Bruins look to sweep the Bisons for the second straight year.
Photos by Colby Crosby.