MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - - Behind a game-high 20 points from sophomore Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Middle Tennessee, 71-59, Saturday.
Belmont has won 10 of the last 13 meetings vs. Middle Tennessee, including five victories at the Murphy Center.
Belmont was laser-focused on both ends of the floor to open the game, amassing a 27-7 lead midway through the first half on a Muszynski conventional 3-point play.
But in a game full of momentum swings, Belmont would score two points over the next nine minutes, as Middle Tennessee closed within 29-25 on a Jayce Johnson basket.
Sophomore Adam Kunkel (Hebron, Ky.) delivered two free throws and a baseline 3-pointer to close the first half as Belmont led 34-25 at halftime.
Five quick Blue Raider points and missed assignments prompted Belmont head coach Casey Alexander to call an impassioned timeout two minutes into the second half.
Despite the words of encouragement, Middle Tennessee continued a run of its own, leading 46-39 with 13:56 left on another Johnson basket.
Belmont silenced the home crowd behind a strong drive from senior Michael Benkert (Greenwood, Ind.) and four Muszynski points to get within 46-45.
A Muszynski slam and a determined drive from Kunkel gave Belmont the lead to stay, 54-53 with 7:22 to go.
Belmont limited Middle Tennessee to one made field goal the final eight minutes of the game, as strong defense and rebounding enabled the Bruins to finish well.
Muszynski provided a clutch offensive rebound, conventional 3-point play to give Belmont a 59-55 lead with 5:39 left.
Junior Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tenn.) made a floating basket and capped a steal with two free throws to increase the margin to six.
Consecutive driving baskets from graduate student Tyler Scanlon (Centreville, Va.), sophomore Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.) and Kunkel at the end of the shot clock made the score 69-59 with 1:31 left.
All told, Belmont shot 50 percent (28-for-56) from the field - incuding 59 percent in the second half.
Aside from Muszynski's 20 points and eight rebounds, Kunkel had 17 points, and Murphy added five points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.
Johnson led Middle Tennessee (3-5) with 15 points.
Belmont (5-3) returns to game action Tuesday, Dec. 3 vs. Lipscomb. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. CT from the Curb Event Center.
Special $5 tickets will be on sale for the game through the holiday weekend and Cyber Monday.
Belmont head coach Casey Alexander
"It wasn't always pretty, but it doesn't have to be and often isn't. We have to learn how to play both through adversity and prosperity. The first 10 minutes were great, then we drop our level, they raise theirs, and things change. We got great leadership from Mike (Benkert) and Hop (Nick Hopkins) in the second half, and their toughness and pride got us through. It was also great to see Moose (Nick Muszynski) demand the basketball down the stretch, and even if shots rimmed off, he was the focal point and he delivered, including the offensive rebound and one. He scored or drew fouls, and when he gets inside position, good things happen for us. We have things to work on and things to improve upon - especially consistency for 40 minutes - but earning another quality road win at Middle Tennessee should drive us forward."