SEASON RECAP: A year of new faces and new places for Belmont men’s basketball
Heading into the 2022-23 basketball season, Belmont men’s basketball head coach Casey Alexander didn’t know what to expect.
His team had lost some of its top players in Nick Muszynski, Grayson Murphy and Luke Smith while promising young players such as Will Richard and JaCobi Wood transferred to other schools.
This meant that the Bruins would have a mostly new roster as they entered their first year in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“I don’t know if we had any expectations. We had so much that we were unsure of when you look at our roster turnover and a lot of new faces combined with a conference, we were completely unfamiliar with,” Alexander said. “We always expect to win because our program has been good for a long time, but we weren’t sure how it would come together.”
The first game of the season was a back-and-forth game vs Ohio University that ended in a freshman Cade Tyson nailing a buzzer beater that sent the Curb Event Center into a frenzy.
After that, the Bruins went cold, losing three-straight games including a loss to rival Lipscomb University for the first time since 2017.
“I don’t think we were a very good team for the first 10 games of the season. We won some games, but even that Ohio game, we weren’t a good team. We just found a way to win,” Alexander said.
But there was a glimpse of hope for the team during the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Belmont suffered a first-round loss to Tarleton State University before rattling off wins against George Mason University, an eventual 20-win team, and Howard University, an NCAA Tournament team.
Then junior point guard Keishawn Davidson returned from injury, giving the Bruins a veteran presence to control the offense.
“He helped us to start settle down and helped everybody get back into the normal roles that we thought we would have going into the season before he got hurt,” Alexander said. I would say 10 to 12 games into the season, we started to know who we were and from that time on, we got a lot better.”
After losing by 18 points to Southern Illinois University on New Year’s Day, the Bruins rattled off seven-straight wins in MVC play including a highlight win over at Bradley University.
Thanks to senior Ben Sheppard's game-winning layup, Belmont was the only team to defeat the Braves at home this season.
The Bruins were able to finish their regular season slate with a 21-10 overall record and a 14-6 record in the MVC.
No doubt, Sheppard led the charge with several impressive performances.
The 6’6 superstar scored more than 30 points twice and had 10 games with 20 or more points en route to First Team All-MVC honors.
Tyson averaged 13.6 points and was the conference’s freshman leading scorer, helping him earn MVC Freshman of the Year honors.
Graduate student Drew Friberg was an absolute flamethrower from behind the arc for the Bruins.
The 6’8 sharpshooter finished ranked No.2 in the nation in three-point percentage, knocking down nearly 46% of his shots.
But the hot shooting wasn’t the only impressive thing for Belmont.
Freshman Ja’Kobi Gillespie emerged as one of the top bench players during the season, impacting the game on both ends of the court for the Bruins.
With all that firepower, The Bruins headed into the MVC tournament in St. Louis, Missouri as the fourth seed with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
The first step was to beat Indiana State University in the quarterfinals.
In a game that was an offensive masterclass from both teams, Belmont lost in heartbreaking fashion, 94-91.
With the loss, the Bruins were not invited to play in any postseason tournament.
Looking towards the future, Alexander plans on using this first year in the conference as a building block for Belmont to become a serious threat in the future.
“The biggest illumination for me was that rosters in the Missouri Valley were built to be physical, and ours wasn’t built to play that way. We were exposed early, so we had to make adjustments,” Alexander said. “Moving forward, we will value physicality and toughness more than we have in the past.”
The team will also have to find ways to replace the scoring ability of Sheppard, who recently just declared for the NBA Draft.
It will have to be a collective effort, Alexander said.
The Bruins have the talent.
“I don’t know if you’re going to replace one person. It’ll be a collective effort, but good teams always have somebody emerging,” Alexander said. “Cade Tyson had a phenomenal freshman season. I would expect him to be better. Ja’Kobi Gillespie had a really good freshman season, and I would expect him to be even better. Keishawn Davidson will be back healthy, and he’ll be better."
“Those three guys collectively will probably share the load of replacing Ben,” Alexander added.
Next year, the Bruins will have experience of playing in the MVC, which raises one question.
Can they win the conference?
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer