OVC Ball - Illinois State 89, Belmont 100: A new narrative

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I came to the Curb Event Center tonight expecting to talk about Dylan Windler.

I leave here wanting to talk about everyone but him.

It’s not because Windler wasn’t fantastic; he was the first Bruin to score, lighting up the crowd after he hit a three from the left-wing, running in front of the student section asking for noise. He scored 20 points, pulled down six rebounds and dished out four assists. He was just as good as we expected him to be.

What we didn’t expect, what we didn’t know, was how his supporting cast would fare.

We’re going to need to learn these new names pretty quickly. Names like Caleb Hollander, who put up 16 of his 21 points in the first 15 and a half minutes of the game. Names like Nick Muszynski, a guy who can catch the ball in the lane, turn around, and dunk as if it was effortless. Or Grayson Murphy, the new floor general for the Bruins who dished out 10 assists, put up 13 points, and just for fun, flirted with a triple-double pulling down 8 rebounds.

Belmont has always had offensive threats, names you come to learn and if you’re smart, fear a bit they the Bruins come to town.

Tonight though, it didn’t feel like a few key names. It felt like every Bruin that touched the ball could shoot with deadly precision.

The stats don’t really do it justice. Belmont finished the game shooting 52% from the field, and 41% from three-point range. Those are good numbers, but they’re also not the true story of the game. For the first 32 minutes, the Bruins were unstoppable.

Some of it was by choice, some of it might have been a young team running out of steam, but the last 8 looked more like what we expected; live ball turnovers, sluggish offense, and poor shot selection did what Illinois State couldn’t.

Slow down Belmont’s offense.

It’s only one game: I’ve written those words probably half a dozen times this week alone. Belmont may not be this dynamic every night; few teams at the college level can carry this level of consistent execution from game-to-game. Heck, Belmont couldn’t carry that level of execution through a single game.

But one game can show a team’s potential. It can show us what heights a team can achieve.

…and Belmont’s potential is as high as ever.

A lot can happen between now and March. But the Bruins are already staking their claim that they’re still here to compete with anyone.


About those final eight minutes

Belmont’s offense struggled down the stretch, and coach Byrd stated a few reasons for it: Illinois State went to a zone defense late, which caused the Bruins some issues, and the team did intentionally slow down the tempo rather early.

“The truth is, if you’re down in the five minute range and up by double digits, their best chance is for more possessions,” Byrd said. “So we did slow it down and we did not get as good of shots because we weren’t trying as hard to get them. But it was still going to have to be a lot of makes for them and a lot of misses for us.”

Belmont’s three-point shooting cooled off earlier in the second half, but the Bruins were still above 58% shooting at the under-8 timeout. From that point, Belmont hit just 2-11 from the field.


Even coach Byrd says he wasn’t sure how his team would play

“I didn’t know what to expect and frankly, I was hoping we would play competitively and I was prepared to lose,” Byrd said with a chuckle. “This will prove to be a really good win by the end of the season.”

It’s a pretty good win now, I’d say.


If I had to talk about one player, it would be Grayson Murphy

…whose name I forgot when asking about him to Byrd. (This is how new these guys are!)

“He’s a tremendous competitor,” Byrd said. “A gifted basketball player. It was really good to see him…he hasn’t been as prominent in practice recently, but he played like we know he can play tonight.”

This is a local kid; played at Independence High School in Thompson’s Station Tennessee, near Nashville, where he was named all-state by the TSWA. He averaged nearly 20 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists as a HS senior (He’s 6’2 by the way.) and did a terrific job running the point for the Bruins.

Hollander, who I mentioned above, is also a local kid. This is talent he’s taking from Middle Tennessee, which in my eyes only makes it more impressive.

The problem when you have one star like Windler is, often, they’re asked to do too much. Having a guy like Grayson that can run the offense takes one thing off Windler’s plate, which lets him focus on what he’s best at.


Fun facts

This was Belmont’s 20th 100 point game all-time. They’re 20-0 when they hit 100.

Belmont’s 100 points were the most Illinois State has given up under current head coach Dan Muller in a regulation game.

The Bruins 62-point first half was two shy of the Curb Event Center record of 64 scored against Campbell in 2006.

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