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.