The Belmont Bruins are still dancing in the 2019 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Belmont defeated the Temple Owls 81-70 Tuesday in a clash between the East Region's No. 11 seeds. Following their First Four victory in Dayton, Ohio, the Bruins will face the sixth-seeded Maryland Terrapins on Thursday in the round of 64.
Kevin McClain (29 points, four rebounds, two assists) and Nick Muszynski (16 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks) paced the victors, while leading scorer Dylan Windler contributed just five points with 14 rebounds and three steals.
Shizz Alston Jr. (21 points, five assists, three rebounds) spearheaded the attack for the Owls, but they were unable to overcome a late second-half surge from Belmont.
Belmont Will Continue Justifying At-Large Bid in Big Dance
The Ohio Valley Conference is not exactly known for getting at-large bids.
In fact, Belmont's was the first for the league since Middle Tennessee earned one in 1987, and it was only necessary because potential top-three NBA draft pick Ja Morant went into takeover mode during the conference championship game. Morant poured in 36 points and led Murray State to the victory over Belmont, forcing the Bruins to sweat out Selection Sunday.
Belmont's inclusion came as a number of power-conference teams such as Indiana, North Carolina State, Texas, TCU and Clemson were all left out of the field.
One of the most difficult tasks the selection committee faces every year is comparing teams across conferences that play drastically different schedules. Teams like the Big Ten's Indiana battle some of the best opponents in the country all season and would surely have finished with a sparkling record in Belmont's Ohio Valley. But the Bruins also won significantly more games.
Belmont wouldn't have gone 26-5 overall and 16-2 in league play if it consistently faced the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, but dominant records have to be rewarded at some point.
The Bruins' sterling mark was, and they took the first step toward justifying their inclusion with the victory over Temple—earned even though their high-octane offense was not firing on all cylinders.
Windler led the team with 21.4 points per game behind 43 percent shooting from deep this season, but he went just 1-of-5 from three-point range during a quiet day. It is a testament to KenPom.com's No. 20 offense that McClain and Muszynski picked up the slack. The former firing from deep and the latter battling on the blocks also underscore how many ways the Bruins can attack a defense outside of Windler takeovers.
Sam Vecenie @Sam_Vecenie
Windler also does absolutely everything else on the floor. He rebounds, solid one-on-one defender, good help defender, makes right pass, doesn’t try to do too much. But also, not the kind of guy you can feel great about saying “go get me a bucket” unless you run a set for him
A win over Temple may not quiet doubters who don't believe an Ohio Valley team is worthy of an at-large bid, but victories over the Big Ten's Maryland and perhaps the SEC's LSU in the next two rounds would do the trick.
Pace figures to be critical in the first-round game. The Terrapins are No. 274 in the country, while the Bruins check in at No. 31, per KenPom. If Belmont can get out in transition and run to the three-point line for open looks, it can force Maryland out of its comfort zone and secure the upset.
Maryland also appears vulnerable after dropping three of its final four games, including one by double digits to a Penn State squad that didn't come near the NCAA tournament.
Belmont would also be in line for a second-round clash against LSU if the third-seeded Tigers defeat No. 14 Yale. While defeating LSU would be a tall task, the task could be made easier while head coach Will Wade is suspended as part of the FBI's investigation into college basketball corruption.
The Tigers lost to the Florida Gators in their first SEC tournament game and will need to figure out how they can win without him in a pressure-packed environment.
A Sweet 16 appearance is well within reach for the Bruins, and they have the offensive talent and balance to capitalize on the situation.
Belmont faces Maryland on Thursday with the chance to earn a memorable win as a double-digit seed.