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Nashville rival Vanderbilt ends Belmont MBB season at NIT

Updated: Apr 22

Thanks to the National Invitational Tournament, Belmont University and Vanderbilt University continued their postseason play in hometown rivalry fashion Tuesday night.

With both teams’ seasons at stake, tensions were high in Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium.

Vanderbilt out-rebounded the Bruins to win 82-71 and will continue to the second round of the NIT, while the Belmont men head home until next season.

Tuesday’s contest marked the first time since November 2017 the neighboring universities tipped off for Music City-style basketball.

Though the Bruins won that 2017 matchup 69-60, they were unable to pull away with the win this time.

Belmont head coach Casey Alexander was disappointed with the game’s outcome, but he is satisfied with his team’s 25-8 record this season.

“It’s really easy to look at it and think, hey, this team underachieved or they should have done this, and that’s warranted,” Alexander said. “But I don’t look at it that way at all. I mean, these guys won 25 games. These guys beat a lot of good teams.”

“So, I don’t want to minimize what this team has done in any way, shape or form. Do we think we could have done more? Absolutely. Are we disappointed we didn’t? Absolutely. But this is a good team that did great things,” he said.

Belmont jumped to a hot start after junior guard Ben Sheppard set the tone early with a dunk to put the Bruins on the board, 2-0.

From there, Belmont caught fire with a spread of points from graduate students Nick Muszynski, Tate Pierson and Grayson Murphy, as well as Sheppard and freshman Will Richard.

Their sharpshooting quickly brought the Bruins to a 24-12 lead halfway through the first half after a layup from sophomore forward Michael Shanks.

But with a 3-point jumper from Vanderbilt’s Shane Dezonie, the Commodores began regrouping and responding accordingly.

Downers from Vanderbilt’s Rodney Chatman, Quentin Millora-Brown and Tyrin Lawrence kickstarted the Commodore rally, tightening the score deficit to seven.

Offensive and defensive rebounds sparked success for the Commodores as Jamaine Mann, Liam Robbins and Jordan Wright each executed efficiently.

After three straight scores from Wright, the Commodores came back, trailing by one with 3:49 remaining in the half.

Richard and graduate student Luke Smith responded with 3-point jumpers, adding to Belmont’s lead 38-34.

But Wright didn’t slow down, as a layup put Vanderbilt within two.

From there, Millora-Brown made a free throw, and later, a buzzer-beater shot, to give the Commodores their first lead of the game, heading into halftime 39-38.

Sheppard got the ball rolling early for the Bruins in the second half with a 3-pointer, retaking their advantage.

After Vanderbilt’s Myles Stute executed off a layup to bring the contest 41-all, the lead began to seesaw between the teams for the next several minutes.

Thanks to another three from sophomore forward Frank Jakubicek, the Bruins tied the game back up 46-all.

From there, great play from both sides allowed the game to remain close.

After a Wright 3-pointer to up the Commodores 64-56, Richard responded with his own three, tightening the score with 7:25 remaining.

“Confidence is exactly what I thought we saw in him tonight. He made some big shots, he made some big plays, he played like he belonged. He’s got a great future for us,” Alexander said about the freshman guard.

Richard connected with a layup, narrowing the score to 64-61 in favor of Vanderbilt with 5:21 remaining.

No. 4 Will Richard goes up for a layup, narrowing Vanderbilt’s lead at Tuesday’s away game. Richard was one of Belmont’s high scorers in the game. Landen Secrest / Belmont Vision

After a free throw from Vanderbilt’s Scottie Pippen Jr. and two from Sheppard on the other side of the court, Muszynski tied the game 65-all with a jumper.

Four minutes left.

The Commodores continued coming up with critical rebounds and shots, allowing them to pull away with the clear victory for an anti-climatic end to the game.

Overall, the Bruins shot 45% from the floor and 33.3% from behind the arc.

Richard recorded 22 points and eight rebounds in his 35 minutes of play.

Muszynski added 13 points, five assists and five rebounds in his final game as Bruin.

Overall, Vanderbilt out-rebounded the Bruins, taking 42 while Belmont secured just 28.

The Commodores will now move on to the second round of the NIT, facing off against the winner of the University of Dayton and the University of Toledo contest Wednesday night.

Though the Bruins returned home with a loss this time, coach Alexander would like to see more Belmont-Vandy action in future seasons, he said.

“I personally would like to play the game,” he said. “It would be great for our program and it would be great for Nashville.”

With the men’s basketball team’s 2021-22 play now over, the offseason awaits.

While the Curb Event Center is cooling off, women’s basketball will be dancing in the NCAA tournament and the men getting ready for their next challenge: the Missouri Valley Conference.

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PHOTO: No. 33 Nick Muszynski posts up against a Vanderbilt defender at Tuesday’s away game. Landen Secrest / Belmont Vision

This article was written by A.J. Wuest.

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