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.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.