The men’s basketball team will enter the Ohio Valley Conference tournament as the No. 1 seed, with a two-round bye and the chance to put the cherry on top of an almost perfect season.
Heading into the tournament, the Bruins are riding a 13-game win streak, backed by the standout play of seniors Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain and freshmen Grayson Murphy, Nick Muszynski and Caleb Hollander. They are all locked in and ready to bring home the OVC postseason championship that has eluded Belmont for the last three seasons.
The Bruins ended the regular season with an overall record of 25-4, with key wins against UCLA, Western Kentucky and two wins against Lipscomb.
In the OVC, Belmont won the regular season title with 16 wins and only two losses against Jacksonville State.
One hurdle to the Bruins’ success throughout the OVC tournament could be their co-regular season champions Murray State, led by OVC Player of the Year Ja Morant. Belmont did manage to beat the Racers in Murray in January, however, it can be difficult to beat a team twice in one season.
An OVC championship win would mean an automatic bid for the NCAA’s biggest stage, the NCAA Tournament. Since the Bruins haven’t made the tournament since 2015, this is Windler and McClain’s final shot.
“I think everyone knows it’s our goal to win the tournament, I think we have the best shot. Everyone expects that we can and should win. Anything short of that we wouldn’t be happy with,” said Windler.
Along with three of his players receiving First Team All-OVC and one receiving Freshman of the Year, head coach Rick Byrd enters the tournament crowned as OVC Coach of the Year.
“That award is really a program of the year award. It involves so many people: the main staff of coaches, graduate assistants, managers and certainly most of the credit goes to the players,” he said.
But Byrd still has his priorities on a bigger prize, the tournament championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“It would mean so much to our school and certainly to these young men,” he said.
High hopes ride with the Bruins as they get ready to take on Austin Peay on Friday at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
This article written by Ian Kayanja and Julieann Challacombe.