The Belmont men’s basketball team will enter this year’s Ohio Valley Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed, playing its first game on Friday at 9 p.m..
Though the Bruins didn’t win the OVC regular season, the team did clinch a two-round bye and will play the winner of the Austin Peay vs. Eastern Illinois game in the semi-finals.
After losing the championship for the last two years, the team hopes this year will be different.
Head coach Rick Byrd instead wants to focus on the positives.
“You are disappointed when you’re the No. 1 seed and you lose two years in a row,” said Byrd. “But at the same time, it’s pretty hard to be disappointed when you look at the big picture and see we made it seven out of 11 years.”
Byrd knows no tournament is ever stress free or a walk in the park, but he wants to handle this one by taking it one game at a time.
“Over-emphasizing a tournament is how you create pressure,” said Byrd. “When you’re in a program that’s successful and has won a lot of games, you just keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
This year’s All-OVC First Team included three Bruins, junior Dylan Windler and seniors Amanze Egekeze and Austin Luke.
Windler is coming off of an MVP-caliber season with 14 double doubles, setting a Curb Event Center record with 20 rebounds in his game against Morehead State.
It’s his first time making the All-OVC First Team.
“It’s definitely humbling to know you’re in that company with those great players,” said Windler.
This is Luke’s second year being elected to the All-OVC First Team, but nothing is more important than a tournament title, he said.
“I’d trade that for the OVC championship any day of the week,” said Luke.
As he wraps up his career at Belmont, Egekeze hopes to leave behind a legacy people will remember.
“We want to avenge the past two years. We know no one’s entitled to win the whole thing, it’s a new season,” Egekeze said. “We want to win the tournament and then hopefully make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.”
Luke also knows the end of his collegiate career is coming up quickly, but he has unfinished business to take care of first.
“Winning this tournament and making the NCAA tournament would be the icing on the cake for sure,” Luke said.
The Bruins’ first tournament game will be aired on ESPNU on Friday night at 9 p.m..
This article written by Steven Boero.