For the first time ever, the men’s basketball team received an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament and is set to play Temple University as an 11 seed in a play-in game on Tuesday.
The Bruins waited an entire week after their heartbreaking loss to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament final to see if the tournament committee would give Rick Byrd and Belmont a shot.
“It’s a great honor for our team. You know, we’ve earned our way seven previous times by winning the tournament, but to be good enough to be chosen with a team as young as this is pretty special,” said an emotional Byrd.
Byrd earned his 800th career win in February but still didn’t keep his hopes up for an at-large bid because of how mid-majors have been treated by the selection committee in the past.
“There’s been a lot of pressure or a lot of talk about the mid-majors not getting a fair shake,” Byrd said. “Maybe it’s the NET, the new process, maybe it’s just human nature that they’re tired of hearing people criticizing them for it, and they decided if it’s the right thing we need to get a mid-major in.”
This is also a huge moment for seniors Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain, who’ve never played in the March Madness Tournament.
“We wanted to win the tournament, but to be where we are, we’re going to take it,” said Windler. “I think things just turned out in our favor. We trusted the process and let it all play out and it worked out.”
McClain is just excited to play.
“I’m just so excited, my heart is still beating,” said McClain. “My fight to get here was with extra hard work and it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to happen, but we’re here, and I’m just excited to be here.”
The Bruins will head to Dayton, Ohio to take on Temple, who is coming off a loss to Wichita State in the American Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday.
The Owls’ record is 23-9, with wins against University of Central Florida, Davidson University and University of Houston, which definitely helped their tournament case.
Tip-off is set for 8:10 p.m. Central Time.
If the Bruins defeat Temple, they will head to Jacksonville, Florida, to face the 6th seeded Maryland on Thursday.