In a matchup featuring Rick Byrd and Fran Dunphy — two of the college basketball world’s most respected coaching names — it surprised no one that viewers would be treated to such a thrilling showdown.
Heading into the game, all eyes were on the health of Nick Muszynski, the Belmont Bruins center who suffered an ankle injury in his team’s OVC Tournament semifinal game against Austin Peay. Prior to the game, Byrd said that Muszynski would play, but it was anyone’s guess as to how he would look in his first game back.
At the outset, it became clear early that Muszynski was not 100 percent. He hobbled up and down the court, but he was still able to make an offensive impact, whether that meant finishing down low or dishing out passes from the paint. Understandably, his minutes were limited, with junior center Seth Adelsperger doing a solid job filling in for him.
However, it was obvious that the Temple Owls’ defensive focus was solely on Dylan Windler, the NBA-caliber Bruin who leads the team statistically in a variety of offensive categories. Limited to only three points on three shots in the first half, Windler was forced to affect the game in other ways, coming up with a variety of steals that allowed Belmont to score buckets in transition and take a 37-31 lead into the break.
Unfortunately for Belmont, the second half was not as kind to them. A series of early mistakes at the offensive end resulted in points for the Owls, who used a 17-4 run to come back from an 11-point deficit.
Throughout this stretch, Belmont looked completely erratic, forcing errant passes and generally deviating from their offensive game plan. Of course, it didn’t help that Temple’s defenders were all over Grayson Murphy, which forced the Bruins into playing at the Owls’ tempo.
Yet, it was 20-5 Belmont run—propelled largely by Kevin McClain and Nick Hopkins’ perimeter shooting — that allowed Belmont to find themselves in the lead with under six minutes to play. However, as the game progressed, Muszynski was back to playing like his old self, scoring on some post moves that have Belmont fans salivating at the thought of having him in the post for a few more seasons.
In a game where Dylan Windler scored only five points, Belmont was able to close out Temple, sealing their first NCAA Tournament win in program history by a score of 81-70. Now the Bruins will face off against Maryland on Thursday, eager to continue this magical run.