By Harry Allison
Kevin McClain scored 29 points as Belmont got its first NCAA tournament win, pulling away to an 81-70 victory over Temple and ending Fran Dunphy’s career in the First Four.
The 11th-seeded Bruins (27-5) play Maryland tomorrow in the East Region.
“We belong in this tournament,” said McClain, who finished two points shy of his career high. “You can see that.”
Belmont got an at-large bid after losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title game. The Bruins showed that the selection committee’s faith was not misplaced, getting the breakthrough win on their eighth try.
“I think that they can play in this atmosphere, and this is important,” coach Rick Byrd said. “I didn’t think many times we played well or knew what we were in offensively, but they found a way to win. And you never play perfect, and I think they’ve got some toughness about them.”
The loss sent Temple (23-10) into a transition. Dunphy is retiring after his 13th season at Temple, where he replaced John Chaney. Dunphy previously coached 17 seasons at Penn.
“The game of basketball has given me way more than I have given to it,” Dunphy said.
He was hoping to coach another day, but Belmont’s high-scoring offense pulled away at the end. Senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. led the Owls with 21 points.
“That team is smart,” Alston said. “They only do what they’re good at.”
The Bruins entered the tournament second in the nation, with 87.4 points per game. The Owls’ aim was to slow the high-percentage offense just enough to give themselves a chance. Temple hung in during a first half that featured five lead changes and ended with Belmont ahead 37-31.
The Bruins pushed their lead to 11 points by hitting their first two shots in the second half. Alston, who led the American Athletic Conference with 19.7 points per game, hit three 3-pointers as the Owls surged ahead 50-46. Alston has been the Owls’ catalyst, scoring at least 20 points in each of his past nine games.
McClain led a 16-3 run that put Belmont ahead to stay. McClain finished two points shy of his career high.
The Bruins’ balanced offense had more than enough, even though leading scorer Dylan Windler was held to five points on 2-of-7 shooting, matching his season low. Windler came in averaging 21.4 points per game.