J.J. Mann

Belmont knocks off No. 12 North Carolina thanks to J.J. Mann’s three clutch threes

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J.J. Mann hit three threes in the final minute to help erase a late eight-point deficit as Belmont went into the Dean Dome and knocked off North Carolina 83-80 on Sunday afternoon.

The junior guard finished with 28 points, but was just 5-for-18 from the floor and 2-for-11 from three before catching fire in the final minute. He was the only Bruin that couldn’t get things going, however. Belmont finished the night shooting 15-for-37 from beyond the arc, which, ironically, is a number eerily similar to UNC’s 22-for-48 from the free throw line.

Is there a more under-appreciated coach in the country than Rick Byrd?

Think about this Belmont team for a second. Last year, they won the Ohio Valley Conference in their first season in the league on the strength of their star back court, Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Both of those guys graduated, with Clark finding his way onto the Utah Jazz roster. That’s a tough loss for any program to handle, let alone a decidedly mid-major program from a town much more concerned with football and country music than college hoops.

Belmont hasn’t suffered one bit. It’s not just this win, either. This wasn’t a fluke. The Bruins also erased a 16-point deficit against Indiana State during the week. That’s the same Indiana State program that went into South Bend and put a whipping on No. 21 Notre Dame.

So Belmont can play and Byrd can coach.

We know this, and we’ve known this for years.

But there’s a reason that Belmont hasn’t been mentioned with the likes of Butler or VCU or Wichita State. There’s a reason that they’re a mostly-unknown powerhouse. There’s a reason that the general public may just be hearing about Belmont now that they’ve knocked off the Tar Heels.

That’s because they’ve yet to win an NCAA tournament game. And until they do, the Bruins will continue to operate in relative obscurity.

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: