Clarksville, TN – Noted philosopher Ric Flair said it best. “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.”
Austin Peay State University (APSU) men’s basketball team did not take down defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Belmont Thursday night, but the Govs threw a scare into the Bruins, leading late before ultimately succumbing to the visitors in an 81-76 contest in the Dunn Center.
To call the first half fast-paced would be an insult to its rapidity. The teams traded baskets for the first six minutes that saw Belmont and Austin Peay combine to hit 15 of their first 19 shots. An unsustainable model, for both teams, but an entertaining way to kick off a nationally-televised contest on ESPNU.
As the offenses settled down, the focus turned to two players who have been part of the conversation around this league for years: Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor and Belmont’s Nick Muszynski. Taylor and Muszynski took turns dominating on the interior during the first half—Taylor entered halftime with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, while Belmont’s big man put up 12 on 6-of-8.
Austin Peay hit eight first-half threes, including six in a seven-minute onslaught to open the game. A mid-half 8-0 run staked Austin Peay to a nine-point lead, but this was Belmont—a nice first-half lead doesn’t mean a lot, and the Bruins cut the deficit to a single point, 40-39, at the end of the half.
The second half promised more of the same between two of the premier teams in the OVC, and it lived up to the promise. Only three times did either team take more than a four-point lead, which the Govs captured early in the half thanks to back-to-back Mike Peake layups. But most of the half from that point was a furious tête-à-tête between a team desperate to remain unbeaten and a team desperate to end their stranglehold on the league.
When Muszynski picked up his third foul before the 12-minute media timeout, the Govs were given an opportunity to make a run with the Belmont big on the bench; after a JaCobi Wood three put Belmont ahead by five, the Govs went on a 9-2 run with Muszynski sidelined before back-to-back layups from Caleb Hollander and Grayson Murphy to retake the lead. And then Muszynski returned at the 7:45 mark.
Carlos Paez hit another three—he would hit a career-high six on the night—to take the lead on the ensuing possession and the teams traded haymakers down the stretch, countering every momentum-swinging bucket with one on the other end. A Hollander three was answered by a Taylor jumper. Jordyn Adams countered a Murphy layup with a three-point play. When Paez sank his final three of the night and Peake followed it a possession later with a layup, the Govs took a four-point lead with 2:49 to play.
They would not hit a shot the rest of the way.
Murphy drove for a layup at the 2:37 mark to bring the Bruins within two, and Hollander hit a three on the following possession to give Belmont the lead for good. The Murphy-Hollander duo scored 21 of Belmont’s final 25 points over the final 9:08 of the contest.
The Govs had a chance to tie it late on a Peake putback attempt, which bounced multiple times on the rim before glancing off to the side. The Bruins would hit three of four free-throws to put the game away on the other end.
Once more, Austin Peay State University couldn’t keep control in the paint, being outscored 46-30 by the Bruins; in their last two games, the Govs have been outscored 94-62 in the paint.
The APSU Govs lost back-to-back home games for the first time since January 26th-February 4th, 2017.
Paez played his best game as a Gov, pouring in a career-high 20 points on a career-best six three-pointers.
Paez became the first APSU Gov with six threes in a game since Taylor against Tennessee State, January 23rd, 2020; that’s also the last time the Govs hit 12 or more threes in a game.
Adams is averaging 13.3 points over the last three games.
Austin Peay State University has a plus-15 turnover margin in the last three games.
Peake is shooting 65.1 percent from the floor over the last six games, averaging 10.5 points over that time.
The APSU Govs are averaging 15.5 assists over the last six games.
Milestone Watch—Career: Terry Taylor tied Derek Wright for third all-time in career starts with 114. He passed Otis Howard (1974-78) for fifth all-time in field goal attempts with 1,592 and passed Doug Stamper (1961-64) for eighth in free-throw attempts with 497.
Coaching Quotables with APSU Head Coach Matt Figger
On the end
“Identical to the Jacksonville State game. 2:49 to play and we can’t score the ball. I think we missed four layups during that segment. We haven’t been able to get a stop when the game gets hard all year. It’s disappointing; our kids are competitive and they want to win, but you’ve got to be able to guard people at the end of the day.”
“We’ve got to figure out a way to be committed to trying to guard the basketball. We’ve changed philosophies to pack the lines, get in, and keep the dribble out and at the end of the day, Grayson Murphy put the team on his back in the second half.”
Belmont 81, Austin Peay 76
Next Up For APSU Men’s Basketball
No rest for the weary, as Austin Peay State University men’s basketball team will host Tennessee State in a 4:00pm Saturday, January 30th contest in the Dunn Center. That will be the second half of a scheduled doubleheader against the Tigers, with the women’s game set for a 1 p.m. tip.