JOE BIDDLE: Belmont’s late bomb punched Big Dance ticket

Belmont Sports Generic
(Graphic: WKRN)

It’s no secret Belmont’s basketball team often lives by the three and less often dies by the three.

They were 15 of 38 from behind the line Saturday. The last one will be remembered for a long time.

The Bruins saved the best for last as sophomore guard Taylor Barnette buried a trey from NBA range just to the right behind the top of the key to give his team a 88-87 win over OVC regular season champion Murray State.

Coach Rick Byrd’s team had the ball out of bounds on their side of the court. He drew up a play for them to go for a tie, down 87-85 to the Racers.

The game clock was at 9.1 seconds, but the clock started too early, and Byrd took a time out to change the play. This time he drew up a play for Barnette to attempt a 3-point shot and go for the win.

He is not the best percentage 3-point shooter in practice. His form is unorthodox, as a result of a late growth spurt in high school when he went from 5-8 to 6-3. To say he shoots better off-balance would not be up for debate among his teammates.

“I was excited,’’ Barnette said, after he learned Byrd had called his number. “I just said, Lord, give me the strength to hit this shot. It’s surreal. I am proud of my teammates and my coaching staff.

Byrd admitted after the game he didn’t know what to expect from Barnette as he was only 2 of 7 from 3-point land before The Shot.

“On that last shot, I didn’t know if Taylor was going to bank it in or what,’’ a relieved Byrd said. “I put him in that spot because he gets the ball off quicker than anyone else on our team and he has great range.

“I knew he wasn’t going to miss it because of the (pressure) situation. He might have missed it, but it wouldn’t have been because of the situation.’’

Barnette buried The Shot, sending a stunned crowd of 5,293 fans home, pinching themselves to see if it had been a dream.

The Shot not only will put the Bruins in the field of 65, likely in a play-in game, but it lessened Murray’s chances of making the Dance, despite posting an undefeated OVC record and winning 25 games in a row.

“The last 10 minutes of the first half, it looked like men (Murray State) among boys (Belmont),’’ Byrd said. “We could not stop them and I didn’t have any answers. All I could say was ‘guard your man,’ but that wasn’t working. These guys found a way.’’

Neither team deserved to lose this game. This was as good and competitive college basketball game as I have seen this season. There will be a number of NCAA Tournament teams that would have lost to Murray State on this night.

But Byrd’s experience and his rapport with his players arguably gave his team the confidence and poise to somehow find a way.

They were living on the edge against Murray, but they won their second time in the past three seasons.

“Shooting is all about muscle memory,’’ Barnette said.

It worked for him.

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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