Belmont and coach Rick Byrd have finally won an NCAA tournament game.
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At last, after 33 years, Belmont’s Rick Byrd has won an NCAA tournament game. He started at Belmont back in 1986, when the Bruins were in the NAIA and far from the bright lights. He coached the Bruins in seven NCAA Tournament games and lost them all.
But to tip off March Madness on Wednesday night, the Bruins captured a cathartic win in Dayton. In a roller-coaster game, Belmont relied on Kevin McClain (26 points) and Nick Muszynski (16 points) to power it past a pesky Temple team.
This was a night where Belmont had to prove it belonged. The selection committee gave Belmont a chance over power conference teams like Clemson, Indiana and NC State, a rare sight. Leading in, it felt like the challengers from the Ohio Valley were representing all the snubbed mid-major teams in Dayton, teams like Lipscomb, UNC-Greensboro and Furman that were banished to the NIT. Belmont’s win certainly sent a message. Take note NCAA: if you let them in, these teams can really play.
It was a game of runs in every sense of the cliche. The game started with an 8-2 Belmont spurt. Then Temple took the advantage, but Belmont’s multi-pronged attack of Muszynski, Murphy and McClain stormed back to take a 37-31 halftime lead. Temple went down double-digits but went on a 10-0 run early in the second half, giving the Owls momentum. They pressed to retake the lead with 13:34 left in the game. But Belmont had the final, decisive 16-3 run, pouring on a barrage of threes from McClain and points in the paint from Muszynski, who played amazingly well considering he suffered an ankle injury in the OVC semifinals last week. That put things to bed for Temple, as Shizz Alston Jr. could not rally his team for a final counterattack.
Belmont will continue to bear the flag of snubbed mid-majors against No. 6 seed Maryland on Thursday. With Maryland struggling down the stretch, that game looks to be an evenly-matched contest after tonight’s performance. With its potent offense, Belmont has the tools for a deep run in March. Perhaps playing in Dayton will be a blessing in disguise; getting over the hump with that elusive first win may be exactly what Rick Byrd’s squad needed to spur itself forward. If Belmont shoots 53% from the field and 39% from three again in the NCAA tournament, top seeds should be worried.
But before that game, Belmont will celebrate a long overdue NCAA tournament win. It’s a name that has often shown up on brackets as Byrd has built a consistently great program in Nashville. At long last, he and the Bruins have been justly rewarded.
Somewhat surprisingly, that wasn’t even the most exciting game of the night. Earlier, No. 16 seeds Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M played a crazy game of wild runs and long range shooting. The Knights of New Jersey prevailed 82-76 after spending more than half the game down by double-digits. Darnell Edge became the first hero of March by scoring 33 points on 7 three-pointers. Prairie View A&M will rue wasting a stunningly good performance from three (15-of-28, a season high). Fairleigh Dickinson will face No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday. The main takeaway from that game? The NCAA tournament remains awesome.
If these two games are indicative of what we will see the rest of the way, we are in for a treat. Tru TV Nights in Dayton are still a money grab from the NCAA, but at least we also receive an entertaining money grab. Both games were a perfect appetizer for what’s to come.