The Belmont men’s basketball team is heading into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament looking to defend their title and seek redemption after last season’s snub.
The Bruins concluded OVC play as regular season champions after going 24-3 overall and nearly finishing conference play with a perfect record. Their double figure run earned the Bruins a No. 1 seed in the OVC Tournament as well as national recognition along the way.
“Honestly I’m very pleased with our overall body of work. We had a really nice run there and it’s been an enjoyable season in the midst of a lot of COVID struggles,” said head coach Casey Alexander. “I’m really excited about what our team has accomplished to this point.”
Their 21 game win streak met a brick wall in the closing weekend of the regular season after the Bruins took two straight losses against Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State.
It wasn’t the ideal way Alexander would have liked to conclude their regular season run, but he’s learned more about his team going into the postseason, and in no way is counting them out.
“Obviously we’re a little bit bruised from this past weekend, not only losing but losing twice, and quite honestly not playing very well. I think human nature will cause some doubt to creep in and we’ve got to reassess some things. As I told our team, we still have a lot to prove and we haven’t earned anything as far as the postseason is concerned – but I like our chances as much as anybody,” said Alexander.
The Bruins went into their final weekend of the regular season with one very important man short, as junior center Nick “Moose” Muszynski was out both games with an apparent foot injury. His absence was felt by both the team and fans alike, but heading into the Tournament Alexander hopes to see him back on the floor.
“We expect to have Moose available, to what degree is up in the air at this time it’s too early to tell, but I hope it’s business as usual as far as he’s concerned.”
Despite his regular season being cut short, however, Muszynski was named to the All-OVC First Team for the third year in a row. His triple-season All-OVC accolades make him the first Belmont player in their Division I era to earn first-team honors in their freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.
He’s also been named to the Lute Olson and Lou Henson Award Midseason Watchlists after putting on a fantastic performance over conference play, averaging 15.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game.
Fellow junior Grayson Murphy joined Muszynski on the All-OVC first-team list for the second year in a row. He also carried his dominant stature on the defensive end into this season, as he is once again heading into the tournament as the OVC Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
Murphy averaged 10.8 points per game, and put on a defensive show that outshined the entire OVC once again, averaging 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 steals per game as a point guard.
In addition to the two veteran’s quite used to awards and all-conference lists, their fellow team mate junior Luke Smith was named to the All-OVC Newcomer Team.
His outstanding shooting abilities that transferred from the Division III to Division I level took the OVC by storm. Tagging him as the second player in program history, next to Muszynski of course, named to the OVC All-Newcomer team.
Each of their skills and leadership will propel the Bruins through the OVC Tournament as they take on eighth seed SIU Edwardsville, a team they’ve beaten twice already this season.
However, it’s always difficult to beat the same team three times in one season, especially with this season’s unprescented and tightly regulated tournament. Each of the teams in the tournament don’t have nearly as much time to practice ahead of time once they get to Edwardsville.
On top of that, they don’t get the week one bye they’ve earned as the number one seed, giving only a three day period to prepare between their loss to Morehead State and their first tournament matchup against SIUE Wednesday night.
Everything has been different about this season, and the Bruins have shown what can happen when things go wrong after losing Muszynski at the end of the regular season. Alexander, though, is completely confident in his team’s ability to persevere through anything just as they’ve done all season.
“We’ve learned a lot about ourselves this year and I trust our team,” said Alexander.”
I think we’ve got a really mature team and certainly a team that’s used to winning. Regardless of what comes our way, I expect us to keep looking forward and be the best that we can be – hopefully that will be enough.”
This article written by Julieann Challacombe.