Midseason report: basketball moves through tough schedules and triumphal conference play
Proving competitive against the best of programs, both Belmont basketball teams look further ahead to their conference schedule.
The women and men were challenged by a tough out-of-conference schedule to begin the season, including games against several receiving votes and Power Five opponents. So far, the women have played to an overall 7-5 record while the men stand at 12-3.
Women’s basketball takes the next step, starting conference play strong
Coming off a four-game win streak, the women’s OVC schedule is in full swing.
Beginning in-conference after two COVID-related game cancellations, the team defeated Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Dec. 30 with a dominant score of 87-49.
The Bruins kept that momentum in their next two Ohio Valley Conference contests, coming out on top against Eastern Illinois University and Southeast Missouri State University.
It’s a bright spot in what has been a tough series of opponents for the team, and assistant head coach Jamey Givens is ready to take on whatever battles come next.
“I’m excited for the daily challenges that a conference season brings,” Givens said. “Our league is very competitive and it requires a ton of effort, energy and focus from our team to be at its best over the course of an 18 game slate.”
And some standout players are carrying the Bruins through what has been a challenging start to the season.
Guards Destinee Wells and Tuti Jones shouldered much of the offensive load for the team through the first 12 games of the season.
Wells is on her way to another All-OVC caliber season, averaging 16.8 points per game and leading the team in assists with 46.
Headlined by a 29 point performance against Lipscomb on Dec. 2., fellow sophomore Jones proves to be a reliable offensive option averaging 11.3 points for the season.
Also averaging in double-digit points per game this season is sophomore forward Madison Bartley with 10.3, who leads the team in blocks with 17.
Showing much consistency as a freshman, forward Tessa Miller is a key spark off the bench for the Bruins. Miller averages 6.1 points and five rebounds in her 17.5 minutes per game on average.
Her most impressive performance this season came Dec. 15 against Auburn University, scoring a 12-point and 10-rebound double-double in the Bruins 71-62 loss.
The Bruins began the season 2-0 after defeating the Southern Conference’s University of Tennessee at Chattanooga 88-70 on Nov. 9 as well as the Southeastern Conference’s University of Mississippi 62-50 on Nov. 11.
Following a loss to nationally-ranked Georgia Tech just three days later, Belmont opened the Curb Event Center with a commanding 63-34 win against Alabama A&M University.
The Bruins fell short in its next two contests against receiving votes University of Central Florida and University of Arkansas teams, but they successfully eked out a 67-62 win at the latest Battle of the Boulevard against Lipscomb University.
The team then came up short away to the nationally ranked University of Louisville and again at home against Auburn. The contest against the Auburn Tigers marked the first time in nine seasons the Curb Event Center has hosted a Power Five school.
That game wrapped up non-conference play before scheduled home contests against Middle Tennessee State University and Western Kentucky University on Dec. 19 and 22 were canceled due to COVID-19 complications.
“Our non-conference schedule was full of challenges. From the quality of the opponents to being on the road six out of the first eight games, but, I was really proud of how our team continued to grow and compete through the adversity we faced,” said Givens.
“Ultimately, we didn’t end up with as many wins as we would have wanted to, but I was proud of our approach and I am confident that we will learn and grow in a positive way from those experiences.”
Women’s games to look out for:
— Murray State University Saturday and Feb. 24: the Racers stand at 10-4 overall this season.
— Tennessee Tech University Jan. 22 and Feb. 5: the Eagles are projected as runner-ups to Belmont in the OVC preseason poll.
— Tennessee State University Feb. 3 and 26: the Tigers currently rank No. 1 in the OVC.
Men’s basketball maintains momentum with an eight-game win streak
Only falling short in three of its 15 contests, the men’s team played an electric first half of the season.
“I was very pleased with our body of work in non-conference play,” head coach Casey Alexander said. “We faced a very competitive schedule and at one point played seven games in 15 days, beating some really good teams in that span.”
Two of their contests over the holidays were canceled, but the team has since started in-conference play in an impressive fashion. The men defeated Southeast Missouri State by a margin of 40 points before dominating in-state rival University of Tennessee at Martin 81-55 two days later.
Graduate student Nick Muszynski showed the way for the Bruins, named OVC Player of the Week for standout performances early in the new year.
This season, Muszynski averages 17 points and six rebounds per game, and leads the team in both categories.
“Our goal is to win regular season and conference tournament championships, and we plan on doing it,” he said.
Following the team’s recent success, Belmont received a vote in the Ferris Mowers Men’s Basketball Coaches Poll for the week of Jan. 10.
Together with graduate student guard Grayson Murphy, Muszynski was added to the 2021-22 Lou Henson National Player of the Year Mid-Season Watch List.
One of the biggest surprises for the men’s team this season has been the emergence of freshman guard Will Richard, who took a spot in the starting lineup in Belmont’s fourth game of the season.
Richard has now solidified his place as a starter, scoring a season-high 23 points in the team’s early December win versus Samford. The Georgia native averages 11.7 points per game along with 5.7 rebounds and shoots a team-leading 43% from 3-point range.
The men will dive into conference play for the rest of the regular season; and coach Alexander is looking forward to it.
“The conference season is always a fun challenge. The grind of playing your rivals and the familiarity among teams always makes it exciting.” Alexander said.
Men’s games to look out for:
— Murray State University on Saturday and Feb. 24: the Racers rank No. 2 in the OVC.
— Morehead State University on Thursday and Feb. 10: defending OVC Tournament Champions, the Eagles stand at 11-5 overall.
PHOTO: High fives on the court from basketball’s Frank Jakubicek (left), Grayson Murphy and Tate Pierson (right) during the home game versus Furman, Nov.15. Belmont Vision / Jessica Mattsson.
This article was written by A.J. Wuest and Landen Secrest.