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Casey Alexander picking up where Rick Byrd left off at Belmont

The Bruins beat rival Lipscomb in Alexander’s return to Allen Arena

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 16 Belmont at Boston College
Casey Alexander and the Belmont Bruins are off to a 4-1 start.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

NASHVILLE — Casey Alexander patrolled the sideline at Allen Arena on Wednesday with his usual mannerisms: arms crossed, chewing gum and the occasional animated shout at an official or a player.

But this time, it was as the opposing head coach.

The former Lipscomb skipper handed his old team a 73-67 loss in this season’s first installment of the Battle of the Boulevard. In doing so, he continued Belmont’s recent dominance of its crosstown rival, picking up where predecessor Rick Byrd left off.

“It quickly just turned into a game,” Alexander said. “It was a great night for me. I got to see a lot of people who I really like, and my team won.”

Alexander moved from Lipscomb to Belmont in April after the legendary Byrd retired. Though it may have added fuel to one of mid-major basketball’s most underrated rivalries (the schools are separated by just two miles), the move made sense for Alexander, who played at Belmont and spent 16 seasons as a Bruin assistant under Byrd.

“It’s a big game no matter what,” Alexander said. “But I’m glad it’s over. I think we can all move on now. I loved my time at Lipscomb and will continue to pull for them.”

The Bruins have won 14 of their last 16 meetings with Lipscomb, a series that dates back to 1953. Belmont also has a 23-11 advantage since the two schools joined NCAA Division I around the turn of the century.

Aside from a season-opening 79-72 loss to Illinois State on Nov. 6, the Bruins have hardly skipped a beat since Byrd’s departure. Belmont (4-1) has rolled to wins over Samford, Boston College and High Point.

“Our loss was good and bad,” sophomore guard Grayson Murphy said. “The bad part was that it was a loss. But we learned from what we did in that game, and we are improving week-to-week.”

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 16 Belmont at Boston College
Sophomore guard Adam Kunkel might be Belmont’s next star.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Belmont has seen a boost from guard Adam Kunkel’s emergence. The sophomore is averaging 21.2 points per game, but was not at his best against Lipscomb, finishing with 16 and making just 2-of-7 three-point attempts. Kunkel was also issued a technical foul for taunting in the final five minutes.

“I hope it’s a learning moment,” Alexander said. “But he’s a great player and plays with a lot of emotion. That’s a strength of his. We just have to keep it in check.”

Kunkel, Murphy and Nick Muszynski combined for 44 points against Lipscomb. The trio is becoming Belmont’s version of a Big 3. The Bruins like to work the ball to Muszynski down low, which opens looks for Kunkel, Nick Hopkins, Tyler Scanlon and others on the perimeter. Murphy orchestrates everything from his point guard spot.

That recipe is working so far. According to KenPom.com, Belmont is No. 24 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, or points scored per 100 possessions. The Bruins have averaged 86 points through their first five contests.

“They’re challenging for everybody,” Lipscomb coach Lennie Acuff said. “Ask Boston College – they put 100 on them. They beat Samford by [32] and High Point by about 40. They have a lot of firepower, and they can shoot it [from] all five spots.”

Acuff is not exaggerating. With 7:09 left to play, the 6-foot-11 Muszynski knocked down a three to give Belmont a 63-51 cushion. The big man is already 4-of-9 from long range this season.

“If he’s making threes, I really don’t know what you can do,” Acuff said.

Belmont’s offense looks mostly like it did last season. Murphy said there are style differences between Alexander and Byrd, but the bones of the team have not changed.

“The way they coach is different,” Murphy said. “But it’s still the Belmont way. It’s about trying to get the other guy an open shot. Our offense is mostly the same, but there are some different motions and calls.”

There you have it: The Bruins are still good, they still own Lipscomb, and they still figure to be in the mix for the OVC title when March rolls around.

They just have a new coach.


The Mid-Major Madness Coaches Show: Casey Alexander