Not many guards rebound as well as Grayson Murphy.
The 6-foot-2 Belmont sophomore from Independence High School leads the nation in rebounding (7.8 per game through Friday) from the point guard position.
“Honestly, he doesn’t have block-out responsibilities very often because point guards typically get back in transition when their team shoots it,” Bruins coach Casey Alexander said. “So he learned that once he’s checked his man that he can just go attack the ball and he’s had such great success that it’s become a little bit of a niche for him.”
Murphy said rebounding is a 50/50 split between instincts and aggressiveness.
“If I get a rebound, it’s a defensive stop,” Murphy said.
Murphy is fourth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio (3.9), an important stat for point guards.
“It’s a huge part of our offense, especially for a guy who’s not a natural scorer,” Alexander said. “So for him to still be able to have such a huge impact on the offensive end without scoring it is really important to us.”
Belmont leads the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring with 81 points per game. A lot of credit goes to Murphy for leading the Bruins’ fast-paced attack.
“I think he’s got a real unique sense of getting the ball to the right guy at the right time,” Alexander said. “If he knows you’re open, he’s going to find you at the right time to get you the best shot possible.”
Murphy always seems to be in attack mode when he’s running the Bruins’ offense.
“I’m just trying to be as aggressive as possible on the offensive end,” said Murphy, who averages 9.1 points and OVC-bests of 6.3 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
Murphy is a 50.6% shooter from the floor this season, but he struggles at the foul line where he’s a 53.8% career shooter.
“Yeah, I’ve just got to keep getting multiple reps on it and try to work it out as much as possible,” Murphy said.
He shoots free throws well in practice, but sometimes it doesn’t transfer over to games.
Fear of failure or bad memories of a poor outing hurt the confidence of some foul shooters.
Alexander hopes Murphy gradually improves to 70% at the foul line and builds from there.
Murphy’s favorite moment so far at Belmont was an 81-70 victory over Temple last March, the first NCAA Tournament win in school history.
“Thar was one I will never forget,” said Murphy, a playmaker who had nine points and six assists in the game.
Coach Rick Byrd’s career ended after 38 seasons in the next round with a 79-77 loss to Maryland.
Murphy is a high-octane player who seems to always to be going full blast.
“The guy just plays so hard that even when he makes a mistake it’s hard to be too frustrated with him,” Alexander said. “He plays with great energy and great competitiveness and is a smart player. It’s one thing to be kamikaze, it’s another thing to do it within the framework of being a smart basketball player.”
Murphy has eight career double-doubles, including a career-high 23 points and 10 assists in a loss at Austin Peay on Jan. 25.
Alexander has high expectations for point guards after playing the same position at Belmont from 1991-95 and Brentwood Academy before that.
“I have some pretty lofty expectations because I think that position is vital to the success of the team,” Alexander said. “What I want them to do more than anything is control the game on both ends.”
Alexander said Murphy needs the most improvement in being an extension of his coach on the court.
“He’s not really a great communicator,” Alexander said. “He’s not making a lot of offensive suggestions to me, but if he becomes a better leader then our team will continue to get better and he will, too.”
One of his best traits is his relentlessness because he never gives up on a play. There have been sequences where he gets multiple offensive rebounds during one possession.
Murphy was redshirted in 2017-18 after breaking his right foot in a June pickup game with teammates at Belmont.
“I shot a floater and I just came down on it wrong,” said Murphy, who made a full recovery.
Murphy was Independence’s career leader in scoring (2,093 points), rebounds (717), assists (510) and steals (393) before arriving at Belmont.
“The one thing that was always special about him that a lot of people take for granted was his basketball IQ,” said Greg Glass, who coached Murphy at Indy. “It seemed like he was always two or three plays ahead of everybody else. Just anticipating what’s going on, what’s going to happen or what he can do with the ball.”
Glass said Murphy has the it factor that you just can’t explain.
His father, Scott, played guard at Austin Peay from 1986-88 and older brother, Patrick, is a redshirt junior guard at Western Kentucky. Grayson’s cousin, Luke Murphy, is a redshirt freshman pitcher at Vanderbilt.
Murphy came close to a quadruple double during his junior season at Independence in a Region 6-AAA win over McGavock when he had 43 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and nine steals.
“Coach Rick Byrd was in the stands,” Glass said. “He probably didn’t know [Byrd] was in the stands. Again, that’s just Grayson doing what he’s got to do for us to be successful.”
Murphy led the Eagles to a school record for wins (27) in 2016 and the Class AAA semifinals the following year.
Belmont (18-7, 9-3) is currently tied for third with Eastern Kentucky (12-13, 9-3) in the OVC in Alexander’s first season since coming over from Lipscomb in April.
The Bruins handed Murray State (18-6, 11-1) its first OVC loss with a 71-64 defeat that ended the Racer’s 11-game winning streak this past Thursday night.
Belmont also got a pivotal 71-63 win against another OVC heavyweight in Austin Peay (16-9, 10-2) Saturday.
“I 100% believe we can win the OVC Tournament,” Alexander said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to put ourselves in position to have a regular-season championship.”
Alexander replaced a coach who won 805 games in his storied career, including 27 last year.
“There’s pressure to win because Belmont’s used to winning,” Alexander said. “I don’t think about that in terms of me being the coach and Coach Byrd being the coach. I just think about it in terms of the program.”
Consistency has been the Bruins’ biggest issue this season.
“We’ve lost seven games and if you take the Alabama game out of that and look at the other six games at the four-minutes (left) mark, the total margin for those six games was 12 points,” Alexander said. “We’ve won very few of the games that came down to the wire. … But I think we’ve got the right pieces.”