"This one's special because I didn't expect our team to be able to do it frankly."
Not usually something you expect to hear from a coach after a win. But Rick Byrd wasn't exactly wrong in his assessment, as Belmont was going up against a team that had absolutely smoked them back in January.
The Bruins, as is their trademark, used the three-ball to their advantage, with a string of five consecutive scoring possessions and 3-point baskets on four of them meant a sudden 29-19 lead at the halfway mark of the first frame. That lead was short-lived, as a Racer timeout was immediately followed by an 11-2 run to completely erase the deficit.
That was easily Belmont's biggest lead of the game, and was more or less matched by a late run by Murray State that gave them a 49-41 lead at the half.
That would also be Murray's biggest lead of the game, one that Evan Bradds would single-handedly eliminate with an 8-2 run by himself to open the half. The remainder of the game turned into a battle royal, with neither team leading by more than three at any point. Baskets were being traded by the second, as evidenced by this game having three ties and four lead changes just in the last five minutes.
But then the final seconds came, and Rick Byrd was admittedly going to play for overtime. But a clock malfunction led to a play stoppage, which in turn led to Byrd calling a timeout and changing his plan at the last second.
Evan Bradds, Nick Smith and Craig Bradshaw came into this contest averaging 38.6 points per game, had dropped a grand total of 62 through the net to this point. Taylor Barnette, on the other hand, averaged nearly 11 points per game but had only managed six all night and hadn't attempted but one shot in the last eight minutes.
Oh, and he had just done this about a minute prior:
So naturally, what happens next? Of course!
Barnette catches the ball off a screen at the top of the key, turns and jacks a lopsided, fade-away 3-point shot... and absolutely drains it to give the Bruins an 88-87 lead. Man, it feels good to be a gangsta.
It could be argued that T.J. Sapp should have shot the ball sooner on the ensuing last chance. It could also be argued that coach Steve Prohm should have called a timeout once the ball crossed midcourt since he had two of them left. He himself might agree with that assessment.
But none of this changes the fact that the Belmont Bruins are now going dancing, and the Murray State Racers are going home.
Future schedule-makers, take note. The Racers just lost for the first time since the Saturday after Thanksgiving. They just went three and a half months without losing a game, and yet losing their last pre-NCAA Tournament game will wind up costing them an appearance in said dance.
I know that there's nothing Steve Prohm can do about being in a conference where half the teams finish with an RPI higher than 280, but doing things like having Drake (266 RPI) as your sixth weakest non-conference opponent only confounds matters further by completely eliminating what little margin of error you had.
I imagine they'll find themselves in a high NIT seed, but that's perhaps little consolation for a team that was on such a roll and expecting much more from their postseason fate.