In a thrilling Ohio Valley Tournament Championship, it was the Belmont Bruins who ended No. 25 Murray State’s 25 game-winning streak and hence became the first team to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
While it stinks that a team like Murray State, who finished 16-0 (27-5 overall) in the Ohio Valley Conference, may not dance (we’ll see if the NCAA committee is kind to them and rewards them for their regular-season dominance), Belmont deserves a ton of credit for rising to the occasion and knocking off the heavily-favored Racers on the road. It was Taylor Barnette’s deep three-pointer with 3.2 seconds that won the game for the Bruins in what amounted to one heck of a game.
This is not Belmont’s first rodeo. While they were absent from last year’s Big Dance, this is a team that went to three straight NCAA tournaments prior to last season and enjoyed a three-year run from 2006-2008.
Head coach Rick Byrd is one of the more underrated coaches in the NCAA and he has been the skipper behind all of the Bruins’ six trips to the tournament. He has yet to win a game in the Big Dance, however, but several of his teams have battled and his 2008 squad only lost to Duke by one point.
So, as you can see, Byrd’s Bruins are quite synonymous with the NCAA Tournament of late. They even have a super celebrity fan in country music star Vince Gill. Belmont is located in Music City (Nashville) after all. Expect to see Gill in the crowd for the Bruins’ NCAA Tournament game.
Regarding this year’s incarnation of the team, the Bruins are now 22-10 overall after finishing 11-5 in the Ohio Valley East Division (tied with Eastern Kentucky for first place). They have a KenPom RPI of 144 and are probably looking at a 14 or 15 seed.
The Bruins sure can shoot and score the ball with the best of them. Belmont ranks second in the Ohio Valley in scoring with 74.5 points per game (36th in the country) and field-goal percentage (.476, which is 27th in the nation), and third in the conference in three-point field-goal percentage (.382). Their average of 10 three-pointers made per game topped the Ohio Valley.
Belmont’s outside shooting was a major factor in beating Murray State even before Barnette’s heroics. They knocked down an incredible 15-38 three-point attempts in the victory.
Craig Bradshaw leads the team in scoring with 17.9 points per game. He was the driving force in the win over Murray State with 25 points on 10-17 shooting (5-10 from deep). Bradshaw also leads the team with a .411 clip from three-point territory.
6’6” guard/forward Evan Bradds is second on the team in scoring (14.1 ppg) and he leads the team in rebounding (7.1 RPG). He complements Bradshaw very well. Guard Reece Chamberlain adds nice numbers across the board with 8.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and a team-leading 5.9 assists per game. Barnette is the third Bruin in double-figures with 10.8 points per game and he leads with 80 three-pointers made on the season.
One of the key components for an upset bid is to have good shooters and Belmont has them in spades. Of course their outlook will depend on who they draw, but these Bruins sure do have the look of a Cinderella. Belmont will be a tough out and you’ve got to believe Byrd and the Bruins are due for a big win or two one of these days.