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Under the Lights: Belmont at Arch Madness


Photo by Landen Secrest


After falling to Indiana State University in the quarterfinals of 2023 Arch Madness, only one thing filled the minds of Belmont men’s basketball: redemption. 


And going into the 2024 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament having won seven of its last eight games, Belmont seemed to be a sleeper pick to knock off juggernauts Indiana State and Drake. 


As the No. 5 seed in the tournament, the Bruins barely missed the bye, instead having to play Valparaiso University, the last-place team in the conference on Thursday. 


Within the first ten minutes of the game, the Bruins established dominance, pummeling the Beacons. 


The score soon ballooned to 34-11 as sophomore Malik Dia punished defenders from all over the court.  


On the defensive end, Belmont made it impossible for the Beacons to score, stopping MVC Freshman of the Year Cooper Schwieger from scoring. 


By the end of the half, the Bruins led by 26, meaning fans in the Enterprise Center would witness action from the Belmont bench as head coach Casey Alexander decided to rest his starters for most of the second half. 


“It was not strategy,’ Alexander said. “We were really fortunate that it worked out that way.” 

This allowed freshman big man Brigham Rogers to shine as he scored a career-high 15 points.  

Redshirt freshman Keith Robbins also scored six points in his first real glimpse of action for the Bruins, knocking down two 3-pointers. 


Even with the Bruins going on stretches where the ball couldn’t go through the basket, the final score was still 86-61, showcasing the potential of Bruins high-powered offense heading into Friday’s matchup against the University of Northern Iowa. 


Dia finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds despite only playing 20 minutes.

  

“I love the mentality our players showed,” Alexander said. “When you have that kind of energy, commitment and confidence, it usually lends itself to a good performance.” 


With the win, the Bruins reached 20 wins for the 14-consecutive season.  


But unlike the game against Valparaiso where the baskets seemed to fall easily, the game against Northern Iowa was a physical game where Belmont had to fight for every basket.  


Neither team could seem to gain the upper hand.  


A Belmont run would immediately be countered by a Northern Iowa run.  


At the half, the Panthers led 37-32, proving that it could be anyone’s game.  


It soon became obvious the team that could dig deep and find that extra bit of energy and grit would be advancing to the next round. 


The back-and-forth battle continued in the second half with both teams struggling to find ways to score against the physical defenses. 


But towards the end of the game, the Bruins made some crucial mistakes that turned the tides. 


Sophomore forward Cade Tyson, who is always a reliable scoring threat, gave Panthers guard Nate Heise a little extra aggression on a screen. 


As the referee blew his whistle, Tyson was assessed a flagrant foul, giving the Panthers two free throws and the ball.  


What was once 51-50 UNI became 54-50 in the span of 10 seconds. 


The Bruins battled back, taking the 55-54 lead off a Dia layup. 


But as he shuffled back to defend, Dia exchanged some choice words with his defender. 


The referees, who had been carefully monitoring that type of behavior all tournament, gave Dia a technical foul. 


Again, the Panthers were awarded two free throws and the ball. 


The 55-54 lead soon became a 58-54 deficit. 


The final dagger was with one minute remaining as the Panthers hit a 3-pointer to make it 65-60. 


With a final score of 67-62, the Bruins once again fell short in the quarterfinals. 


Belmont’s terrific trio of Dia, Tyson and sophomore guard Ja’Kobi Gillespie struggled to score.


Gillespie scored 17 points on an inefficient 7-18, Dia went 5-12 from the field and 1-6 from the free throw line and Tyson, who was ranked nationally in 3-point percentage, went 1-5 from beyond the arc.  


“We really had to grind for our scores, but so did they,’ Alexander said. “I thought we didn’t have patience or poise when we needed it. I think we forced things a little bit, which is not like us. We didn’t get anything easy.’’ 

 

Now, Belmont must spend the offseason figuring out what it can do to reach the finals of the MVC Tournament.  


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This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer

 

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