In its Missouri Valley Conference debut season, men’s basketball is holding its own.
With a 12-6 record and a current three-game winning streak, the Bruins’ rigorous slate of conference games is underway.
As students left campus for winter break, Belmont strung together consecutive wins on two occasions, establishing its presence in the new league.
“I wouldn't say we're surprised at anything,” head coach Casey Alexander said.
With several MVC games under their belt, the main adjustment for the Bruins has been the style of officiating, Alexander said.
In the valley, they let you play.
More physical players means more physical officiating.
“It's one thing to have physical teams, but when that's compounded with them, letting you play, you’ve got to learn how to play through it,” Alexander said.
Sheppard leads the charge
One Bruin learning to play through the power is senior Ben Sheppard.
The 6’6 guard ranks third in the conference in scoring, averaging 17.8 points per contest.
“He’s a pretty dynamic weapon,” Alexander said in an MVC media session. “Offensively he has really expanded his game, he’s shooting the ball well from three and he has since the beginning of the season, he’s become a much better ball handler and playmaker off ball screens.”
Sheppard receives much attention for his offensive prowess, but he is also a versatile defender.
“He can really take an assignment defensively and execute that, but he also has speed and quickness and can stay in front of really good players,” Alexander said.
The two-way star is one of three players in the conference named to the Lou Henson Award watch list for top mid-major player.
Freshman tandem continues to make an impact
With the ascension of Sheppard, the Bruins have received significant contributions from their freshman.
One of the biggest surprises has been the emergence of forward Cade Tyson, who earned a spot in the starting lineup in Belmont’s third game.
Tyson is now considered one of the top freshmen in the conference after a memorable debut against Ohio University.
Nailing a buzzer beater in the game, Tyson continued his hot streak and scored a season-high 20 points against Missouri State University on Jan 7., earning MVC Newcomer of the Week honors.
“The way he started the game for us offensively, he really carried us. I don’t think we missed a free throw all night, we were 11-11, and he shot the better of those,” Alexander said of Tyson after a 71-64 victory over Missouri State. “His numbers were really efficient across the board; it was just a really impressive game.”
Tyson’s freshman running mate Ja’Kobi Gillespie is also making an instant impact for the Bruins.
Debuting as a starter due to an injured Keishawn Davidson, the “super talented” freshman is showing potential on both ends of the floor.
Gillespie’s season-high of 15 points came against Valparaiso University on Tuesday night. He currently ranks fourth in the MVC in steals.
Davidson found his stride
After missing the first six games of the season, Davidson took over as starting point guard, which provided an offensive spark for Belmont.
The 6’2 guard’s signature game came on the road against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Dec. 18.
En route to leading the Bruins to an 83-79 overtime victory, Davidson showcased his talent, earning MVC Newcomer of the Week.
The next game Davidson went perfect from the field with 14 points and five assists. “If he can score it and also find a place for others, that’s a nice night,” Alexander said of Davidson after a 23-point victory over Samford University on Dec 21.
Friberg’s shooting success
Graduate forward Drew Friberg is shooting 48.4% from 3-point range, which ranks seventh in the nation.
“Confidence is an amazing thing. And we're all better when we've got it,” Alexander said.
Averaging 12.6 points per game, the sharpshooter has made more than five 3-pointers in three games this season.
Right now, Belmont is locked in second place in the MVC standings.
Coach Alexander has one goal in mind as conference play continues; improving on the current 4-4 record away from home.
“Stringing together some road wins would be nice,” Alexander said “It’s obviously very different on the road, and we need to find a way to string some together, that’s how you put yourself in contention. It’s about winning road games, not about winning home games.”
Games to look out for:
— University of Northern Iowa, the defending regular season MVC champions, will travel to the Curb Event Center on Saturday.
— Murray State University on Jan. 17 – former Bruin point guard JaCobi Wood is now a Racer, which will make for an interesting first matchup against Belmont. The Bruins will make the trip to Murray, Kentucky on Feb. 1.
— Drake University at the Curb on Jan. 29 and in Des Moines, Iowa on Feb. 19. The Bulldogs boasts all-conference talent Tucker DeVries, who averages 17.7 points per game. PHOTO: The Bruins take the court in the season opener vs Ohio University. Landen Secrest/Belmont Vision.
This article was written by Landen Secrest