The Bruins advanced to 4-1 on the season and 1-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference after beating the Tennessee State Tigers 79-64 on Tuesday night.
This premature conference game was one of two “flex” games set by the OVC for instances of cancellation or other obstacles potentially caused by COVID-19. The last of the flex games will be held at Tennessee State on Dec. 18.
The Bruins’ first win in the Curb Event Center was led by junior transfer Luke Smith, with his fourth game putting up at least 20 points. At six feet, it was unclear where the Division III transfer would fit in Belmont’s offense.
However, so far Smith has consistently made highly contested shots, showing accuracy and confidence from the perimeter as the Bruins’ leading scorer, proving he has the ability to compensate for the three point efficient players Belmont lost in the off season.
“It’s hard to ask anything more than what he’s given us,“ said Coach Casey Alexander via the team’s twitter. “He’s really been a difference maker – today everybody knew it was going in when he shot it.”
The first possession of the game went to the Bruins, and Smith got them started with a three and their first points on the board.
As a collective, the Bruins continued on a 9-0 scoring spree fueled by smart ball movement and relentless defense on the other end of the floor, bringing the score to 12-2 just five minutes into the half.
The Bruins quickly eased up on the gas, missing shots and giving up unnecessary fouls, allowing the Tigers to go on a small spree of their own.
After a much needed timeout, the Bruins picked up where they started, going on a 6-0 run to make the score 20-6 at the midpoint of the half. Including a third three from Smith, continuing his perfect progress on perimeter shooting.
Following a media timeout, the Tigers found their offensive stride going on a 8-0 run to lessen their deficit 20-12. It was made easy by the Bruins, who made silly mistakes to turn the ball over like stepping out of bounds on offense, giving up possessions that could have produced points.
When energy seemed to be lacking for the Bruins, junior captain Grayson Murphy put up back to back baskets that distanced their lead by 10, 29-19.
The action that followed was mostly made of missed shots for both teams, with the score being 33-26 to end the half. The Bruins totaled 41.9 percent in shooting, going 13-31 on the half, and 4-11 from the perimeter.
The leading scorer for the Bruins was Smith with 11 points, including a trifecta of threes on the half. Murphy wasn’t far behind, being the second leading scorer going 4-6 with eight points.
It has been an unusually quiet night for junior captain Nick Muszynski, who put up his first and only field goal of the half in the last 30 seconds. He was heavily guarded, mostly by two Tigers at once – every basket he attempted to put up was highly contested.
Coming out of the locker room, the Bruins must break down the Tigers’ defense. Finding different ways to feed Muszynski under the basket to help him become more efficient offensively.
After no sign of offense for either team to start the second half, the Tigers go on a 6-0 run to bring their deficit to seven at 39-32. Their stride was silenced by Smith once again, as he put up another three to make it five on the night with plenty of time to go.
Smith’s three sent the Bruins on a 13-2 run giving Belmont their highest lead of the game at 52-34. The run was due in most part to Muszynski, who put up seven of the13 points to help extend the Bruins’ lead after a desolate first half.
The Bruins continued to keep a leg up on the Tigers with a 9-0 run making the score, contesting each Tiger shot while making their own.
However, the Tigers picked themselves up after a time out, shrinking their deficit to 12, at 70-57 with three minutes to go.
Their last chance efforts weren’t enough to stop the Bruins despite Belmont’s offensive drought to end their half. The Bruins were able to hold their lead solely with defense and desperate fouls made by the Tigers the resulted in Bruin free throws.
The final score, at 79-64 was led by another stellar offensive effort by the Bruins, with four scoring in double figures. Smith showed he’s more than comfortable in the Curb, after leading the Bruins again with the most points on the night at 23, putting up a season high eight threes.
Muszynski wasn’t too far behind, with 22 points and 11 rebounds in his first double-double of the season. He put up 18 of his 22 in the second half, solidifying the Bruins’ first win inside the Curb.
Tennessee State’s game plan from the jump was to double team Muszynski in order to silence him under the basket. He struggled in the first half to get past the multiple defenders assigned to him, but in the second half it was a different story.
Even though most of his points weren’t a product of field goals, he did what was necessary to outsmart the Tigers’ defense – create contact and draw fouls for points. This was part of what made Belmont’s win concrete at the final buzzer.
“He’s just got to battle, they were intent on playing behind him and shoving him out,” said Alexander. “In the second half he battled for his position much better, he was a lot tougher and better for our team.”
Before returning back to the Curb, the Bruins will travel the two mile stretch down Belmont Blvd to take on Lipscomb University on Dec. 12 for this year’s rendition of the Battle of the Boulevard. Tip off is slated for 7 p.m.
This article written by Julieann Challacombe.