The day after Belmont’s historic 83-80 victory over the University of North Carolina, fans and players alike are still excited.
As the clock wound down, JJ Mann scored his third consecutive three pointer to give Belmont an 81-80 lead.
“I really wasn’t shooting that well, missed a couple of shots that I plan on hitting on a more consistent basis this year. I did finally hit one coming off a screen and couple of free throws. Free throws always kind of help me get in the zone. When I hit that first three, I was definitely in the zone after that right there,” Mann said.
Coach Rick Byrd was not forced to take a timeout to call the designed play as the stop in play after the UNC jump ball possession allowed the Bruins to prepare to execute their end-of-game heroics.
“That was just a little pitch play where the point guard Reece kind of dribbled at JJ’s man. They were switching everything so it kind of confuses. ‘Is this a switch or not a switch?’ And there’s just enough daylight,” Byrd said. “JJ’s got a quick release and great range. I thought it was our best chance to get a good look.”
Mann’s 26-foot jumper shocked the UNC faithful as the Belmont team stormed mid-court.
“We finally did it. We knew we could play with the big guys. We finally just got that win that Belmont has always talked about getting but always been so close,” Mann said.
As much as Mann enjoyed the victory, Byrd enjoyed watching his players relish the moment.
“It’s real satisfying. At least for me, the part that is satisfying is to see our kids enjoy win like that. Those of us in middle of it are happy for the kids we recruited and came to Belmont. We still have a long way to go,” Byrd said. “It was a great day for Belmont and all of us that were part of it.”
The victory did not come without foul scares as nine players had three fouls or more by the game’s conclusion, demonstrating a tremendous team effort.
“It’s has been crazy the foul trouble for Blake and Drew. I hate it for them,” Mann said. “But to see Nick, Evan, Jeff and Holden. Everybody played. It was total team effort. Everybody was ready to play when they got their name called.
Byrd also commended the effort of Jeff Laidig, who until his two 3-pointers on Sunday afternoon had yet to make a shot.
As was with the win over Indiana State, Byrd also believes that the win over UNC was a huge confidence booster moving forward.
“We win the first game in Lipscomb by four. People don’t think it’s such a great performance. Turns out Lipscomb almost beats Vandy over there and a good team. We get a great win against Indiana State, who beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame yesterday,” Byrd said.
Byrd also recognizes that with confidence, must come caution.
“If it gives us the right kind of confidence, good. If it makes anybody think that we are good already, then that’s a mistake and that’s a bad thing,” Byrd said.
Byrd sees this as a marquee win for the program, but notes that Belmont has been on the right path, all along.
“Ten years ago, we won at Missouri when they were a top-25. That was a big moment because this program hadn’t seen anything like that before,” Byrd said.
“But I think the wins to go to the NCAA tournament when we went and beat Lipscomb in overtime and last year Murray State buzzer beater shots from Kerron Johnson. Those take you where you are really trying to get, and in some ways are even bigger than this one.”
Katie Greene contributed to this report.