Sports, Thrill of Victory

Music City Madness lives up to its billing as NCAA Tournament tickets are punched

Belmont's Rick Byrd cutting down the nets.

Belmont fans celebrate the OVC Tournament win over No. 25 Murray State. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Belmont fans celebrate the OVC Tournament win over No. 25 Murray State. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

It is called March Madness for a reason and both games at the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament showed exactly why. The Belmont men’s team knocked off No. 25 Murray State 88-87 after Taylor Barnette nailed a three-pointer with three seconds remaining, and sending the Bruins to their seventh NCAA Tournament berth in the last 10 years.

Since joining the OVC three seasons ago, the Bruins are making it a habit of playing in the OVC Title game, and when they win it like this year and 2013, they do it in dramatic fashion with a last second shot.

Player of the Night:

Craig Bradshaw ignited the Bruins with 25 points and Evan Bradds added 21, but player of the game has to go to Barnette who hit the game winner. He “only” scored nine points on the night, but three of them will forever be the biggest three points of his career.

What to watch for in the NCAA Tournament:

Craig Bradshaw drives for a layup in the OVC Championship game.  PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Craig Bradshaw drives for a layup in the OVC Championship game. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

The Bruins have received seven automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament in the last 10 years, the most of any team in the country. What is missing from the Bruins impressive resume is a win in the NCAA Tournament. The key for any mid-major to pull the upset is all in the matchup. Belmont will learn who and where it will play next Sunday when the brackets unveiled. Regardless of who shows up as the Bruins opponent, they will have to face a Rick Byrd coached team that is poised to pull the upset.

With Belmont’s national reputation and flair for pushing teams to the very end in the tournament, it may avoid the 15 or 16 seed line, especially if a few more unexpected teams win their conference tournaments this week. If the Bruins do land in that 15-16 range though, they certainly won’t be intimidated.

Much like it has been all season long, the key to a Belmont win in the big dance will be its outside shooting. If the Bruins can continue lighting it up from three-point range, outside of the top few seed, there isn’t a team in America that is completely safe.

 

Women’s Tournament

What we learned tonight:

TSU Lady Tigers win their first OVC Title in 20 years. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

TSU Lady Tigers win their first OVC Title in 20 years. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Some raised eyebrows when Larry Jo Inman took over as head coach at Tennessee State in 2012. The OVC Hall of Fame coach had been to the top of the league in the past, but could he do it at TSU? Less than three years after his hiring was announced, Inman and his Lady Tigers shocked the league by knocking off reigning four-time champion and No. 1 seed UT Martin

What was more surprising than TSU winning, was the fact that the Lady Tigers were the ones that looked like they had four years’ worth of championship winning experience. When a big shot was needed, TSU was the team that hit it. When the final seconds were clicking away, it was UT Martin that made the mistakes. Inman had his team ready, and on this afternoon – the hall of famer out coached the OVC Coach of the Year Kevin McMillan.

Player of the Night:

Brianna Lawrence made her presence known the entire game, en route to collecting OVC Tournament MVP honors. She led all scorers with 23 points, including the three-point shot with 34 seconds remaining to seal the victory. All night Lawrence forced the Skyhawks to collapse on her on defense and when UT Martin fouled her, she made them pay by going 11-12 at the free throw line.

What to watch for in the NCAA Tournament:

Tennessee State was a surprise winner of the OVC Tournament and is likely headed to a No. 16 or No. 15 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The seed, or the outcome of the first round game, won’t matter much for the Lady Tigers though after a 20 years absence from the big dance. This year’s Lady Tigers will be remembered for years to come, and Larry Jo Inman will be remembered as the coach that brought the Lady Tigers back to prominence.