Belmont’s struggling, but it can win a tourney game


NASHVILLE, Tenn – Belmont’s chances of getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament died a long time ago. If it wasn’t when the Bruins came up short in their upset bids at Duke and at Memphis, then it was when they had a stretch of three losses in four games against the likes of Marshall, Miami OH and Middle Tennessee State.

When you play in a conference like the Atlantic Sun, you can’t lose three games to teams that have no shot of getting an at-large bid and still expect the committee to call your name come Selection Sunday without your league’s auto-bid. You just can’t.

But that doesn’t mean that the Bruins are incapable of winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. It doesn’t mean that they have no shot of making it to the second weekend, something that a lot of folks had speculated was possible back in October. And while losing to Lipscomb at the Curb Center after blowing a 12 point lead in the final 12 minutes is going to sting, it certainly doesn’t alter the talent level on this team.

As the saying goes, in a rivalry game, you can throw the records out.

“I felt that the team that wanted to win, and played the hardest, won the game tonight,” Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said after the game. “Their kids deserve a great deal of credit. They made hustle plays. They got loose balls, offensive rebounds, and long rebounds. I told our team that the team that plays hard, the breaks seem to fall their way.”

“This was an upset, based on where the teams were at the time, and how they’ve played to this point, but they outplayed us and deserved to win.”

Frankly, Byrd is probably right when he calls this game an upset.

Coming in, Lipscomb was 6-9 on the season and 2-2 in conference play. They had lost five of their last six games, including a 21 point drubbing at North Florida on Wednesday, and while this was technically a road game for the Bison, it was the first time they had played a game in Nashville in exactly one month to the day.

It was also the best game that Lipscomb has played all season long. The Bison put six players in double figures, led by 17 points from Jacob Arnett, 16 points from Jordan Burgason and the best all-around performance of Justin Glenn’s career — 14 points on 5-6 shooting, 10 boards, six assists, five blocks and four steals.

It was Arnett and freshman Deonte Alexander who sparked a 28-6 Lipscomb run to close the game. Alexander, in particular, had a big finish to the game, scoring eight points in a four minute span that included a banked-in 28 footer that gave Lipscomb their first lead of the second half with 3:53 left in the game.

“He told me he called it,” Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson said after the game, which Alexander, who gave the rowdy Belmont student section the double three-goggles as he hopped back down court, immediately confirmed: “I did.”

As well as Lipscomb played, this was a bit of a fluky loss for the Bruins. Outside of Ian Clark — who was simply outstanding, finishing with 28 points (including seven threes), six boards and five assists — no one on Belmont played well. Their front line of Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth got out-muscled by the burly Justin Glenn, finishing with a combined 11 points and nine points. They came in averaging 19.3 ppg and 12.0 rpg combined.

“They were collapsing on them as soon as they caught it, so we had to hope to get some in and out scoring,” Byrd said. “When we’ve got Mick out there, his man would double, and we didn’t take advantage of that with him cutting to the basket like we could have.”

And while I’m sure Glenn would love for me to give all of the credit for those struggles to his play defensively, the fact of the matter is that Lipscomb’s game-plan had just as much to do with that performance as anything. Every single time that Hedgepeth and Saunders touched the ball on the block, they got double-teamed. Neither of them would get put in the same sentence as, say, Chris Webber for their ability to find open teammates out of the post, but both Hedgepeth and Saunders are certainly capable of recognizing and finding the open man.

They did a solid job of that on Friday night as well.

The problem?

No one on Belmont’s perimeter was able to finish the open opportunities they got as a result of that ball-movement. JJ Mann was 4-14 from the floor and 2-11 from three. Kerron Johnson, who is one of the more exciting point guards in the country to watch, was 4-15 from the floor and 0-5 from three. In fact, if you take away the 8-15 that Clark shot and the 7-11 that he made from beyond the arc, the Bruins made just 6-25 from deep and shot a frigid 35.3% from the floor.

For Johnson, the struggles were more than just his ability to shoot the ball. Byrd gives him a long leash when it comes to attacking the basket, and deservedly so. Johnson is quick as lightening, left-handed and capable of finishing over bigger defenders in the paint. That’s a good combination for a point guard to be. But on Friday, he overpenetrated, he threw the ball away and he missed far too many open looks from the perimeter. More importantly, he played poorly defensively. After Alexander banked in the three to take the lead, Johnson missed shots on the next two possessions while getting beat on the same play — a UCLA cut for a layup — twice.

You simply are not going to see Johnson play that way too often.

And you are not going to see Belmont get the kind of performance they got out of Hedgepeth, Saunders, Johnson and Mann too often.

But there was more to this loss than simply an off-night. In fact, there are a couple of issues with this Belmont team that seem to be chronically plaguing them this year.

The biggest issue may actually be the loss of Jon House. House wasn’t a big scorer (just 5.3 ppg in 19.0 mpg), but he was Belmont’s glue-guy. He was the guy that guarded their best wing player and the guy that dove on the floor and got that key loose ball and the guy that set a screen to free a shooter. He did the things that don’t show up in the box score that help a team win, and Belmont hasn’t found someone to effectively fill that role yet.

The other issue is that sophomore JJ Mann hasn’t been able to fill Jordan Campbell’s shoes. Campbell shot 46.8% from three as a senior. He didn’t miss. Neither does Clark, and when you have Johnson penetrating with two shooters on the wings that defenders absolutely cannot leave, well, that’s a good thing. Mann has improved on the 32.7% he shot as a freshman, but he’s far too streaky with his jump shot. When he gets it going, he can make four or five in a row. But when he’s off, you see games like Friday. And he’s had too many games like Friday of late.

The Bruins have not been playing the same level of defense that they did last season, either. Their pressure forced a ton of turnovers that led to easy layups and open threes last season, and Belmont isn’t getting those same opportunities this season.

Belmont still has the pieces to win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. They have a front line that is big enough to hang with a high-major team. They have a talented, play-making point guard and a big-time scorer on the wing. They have depth. They are very well-coached and, for the most part, they usually understand how to run their offense and execute defensively.

But they simply cannot have the defensive lapses and lose their composure they way they did on Friday.

Because every loss right now affects where Belmont will be seeded should they win the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid.

Belmont as a 12 seed will be a trendy pick to pull off an upset.

Belmont as a 15 seed is simply first round chum for a UConn or a Baylor.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.