LOS ANGELES - - Senior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.) made a layin with 2.3 seconds left as Belmont University men's basketball defeated [rv/rv] 11-time National Champion UCLA, 74-72, Saturday from historic Pauley Pavilion.
"This means as much as it does to our program because of the program UCLA is," Belmont head coach Rick Byrd said. "Our kids played hard and I am so happy for them."
It was the first meeting of 'Bruins vs. Bruins' since the 2006 NCAA Tournament; on that occasion, UCLA rode the play of a quintet of future NBA standouts – Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Jordan Farmar, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ryan Hollins – to victory en route to the National Championship game.
12 years – and scores of NCAA Tournaments and signature victories later – Belmont faced another tall order. Literally.
UCLA featured the nation's second-tallest roster by height – mere fractions shorter than Syracuse. Moreover, freshman center Moses Brown entered play fourth nationally in offensive rebounding, an area he showcased in UCLA's victory over Notre Dame one week earlier.
And while both teams lean on underclassmen, it would be the Belmont Bruins that would demonstrate poise and resolve for 40 minutes.
A 3-pointer from McClain and a breakaway slam from senior Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.) got Belmont off to a 5-2 lead.
But as Belmont endured a brief dry spell. Kris Wilkes pushed UCLA to a 14-6 lead six minutes in.
The host Bruins fired on all cylinders early, with bench contributions from Jules Bernard and David Singleton staking UCLA to a 12-point advantage.
Undeterred, Belmont complemented McClain's hot start with bench contributions of its own.
After consecutive scores from freshman Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio), sophomore Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tenn.) and junior Michael Benkert (Greenwood, Ind.) strung together makes from behind the arc during a pivotal juncture of the game.
Freshman Grayson Murphy (Thompson's Station, Tenn.) capped a 12-0 Belmont run with a 3-pointer of his own to tie the score at 29 with 8:12 left in the first half.
Wilkes continued his assertive first half, working Belmont into foul difficulty and scoring from all angles as UCLA extended back to a seven-point lead.
But clutch layins from McClain and Murphy to close the first half got Belmont within 43-40 at halftime.
Belmont shot 43 percent (15-for-35) from the field in the opening 20 minutes – including 8-for-17 from 3-point distance.
UCLA scored 24 points in the paint in the first half, 11 of which came on second chance points.
The visiting Bruins would address that at halftime and make adept adjustments in the second half defensively.
McClain led Belmont with 14 first half points.
As much confidence as Belmont took from the close of the first half, it was an unfortunate and inauspicious start to the second half.
After four empty offensive possessions, UCLA took a 49-40 lead with 18:14 left on a Cody Riley layin.
But as was the case throughout the afternoon, Belmont fought on and delivered major responses.
A conventional 3-point play from Muszynski and two free throws from freshman Caleb Hollander (Nashville, Tenn.) narrowed the margin to four, 49-45, with 16:42 left.
The series of runs continued, as UCLA used its recovery defense at the rim to initiate back-to-back 3-pointers from Prince Ali, making the score 57-45 with 15:02 remaining.
From there, Belmont produced some of its most inspired and unified team defense in recent memory, holding UCLA without a field goal for a seven-minute stretch midway through the second half.
Byrd would also elect to go smaller; in part by choice and part necessity. Muszynski would be saddled with foul trouble and fellow center Seth Adelsprger (Peru, Ind.) was nursing a neck injury after being nearly decapitated by Riley on a shot attempt.
Through it all, Belmont shined.
A Windler 3-pointer sparked a big Bruin run, with a Murphy teardrop layin getting Belmont within 59-56 with 9:42 left.
Both teams worked into the bonus early the second half, and while Belmont left a few free throws on the board, it was UCLA that didn't receive charity from the charity stripe.
After Hollander and Chris Smith exchanged 3-point makes, UCLA used a rare second-half burst of offensive rebounds to earn six free throw attempts in one possession.
But the hosts only made one of the six tries, and Belmont only trailed by five with 7:40 remaining.
More strong defensive rebounding from Windler led to a lightning quick fast break layin from Benkert to cut the margin to three.
Moments later, Windler would seize an open court steal and throw down a thunderous slam through a pair of recovering UCLA defenders to get Belmont within 65-64 with 4:39 left.
And though Belmont rimmed out clean looks from Windler and McClain that would have given it the lead, continued impressive defense and rebounding provided more opportunities.
Murphy buried a straight-on 3-pointer off a deft assist from McClain to give Belmont a 67-66 lead with 2:45 remaining.
It was Belmont's first lead since 5-4.
Riley would tie the score at 67 with 2:19 left on one free throw.
The Bruins executed with surgical precision in the final three minutes of the game, running Byrd play designs to perfection.
Windler and Muszynski teamed up on a seamless screen and roll slam to push Belmont back ahead 69-67 with 2:00 left.
Following a short jumper from Jaylen Hands, Murphy found McClain free along the baseline for a score to put the visiting Bruins back on top by two with 1:25 to go.
It was riveting theatre and Belmont was more than up to the task.
Windler would foul out with 1:13 left going for a steal, but Smith proceeded to miss both free tthrow attempts. Muszynski secured the Belmont rebound.
The Bruins worked the offensive possession, with Murphy driving and tossing to Hollander for a clean wing 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.
It would rim out and UCLA gained possession under 50 seconds left.
Following a timeout, Hands stepped back and sank a deep 3-pointer with 32 seconds left to put UCLA back ahead 72-71.
As easy as it would have been to be deflated following the sequence, Belmont confidently worked the ball into the frontcourt, ran the clock, and delivered another defining moment in program history.
Murphy lofted a perfectly timed pass along the baseline to McClain who swooped in and scored at the basket with 2.3 seconds left to give Belmont a 73-72 edge.
UCLA called timeout to draw up one final play, but Belmont defended the action well and Riley threw a pass out of bounds to give the Bruins possession.
From there Belmont freed Hollander with 0.7 seconds remaining, and his one free throw make and intentional missed second free throw secured the final outcome.
All told, Belmont shot 40 percent (27-for-68) from the field – including 11-for-32 from 3-point distance. Belmont handed out 19 assists on 27 made field goals and the team matched UCLA in rebounding, 44-44.
Belmont limited UCLA to four points in the paint in the second half.
Aside from McClain's heroics, Windler added his fourth double-double of the season with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Murphy had 12 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
Wilkes led UCLA (7-3) with 20 points, 19 coming in the first half.
Belmont (8-1) returns to game action Wednesday, Dec. 19 vs. Western Kentucky. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. CT form the Curb Event Center. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and the ESPN app. The live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and Belmont Gameday app. In-game updates will be available via Twitter @BelmontMBB.
NOTES: Belmont adds to its impressive list of high-major victories, including North Carolina, Marquette, Cincinnati, Alabama, Missouri, Stanford, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Butler ... McClain's previous season-high was 16 points at Lipscomb (11/15/18) ... Windler's fourth double-double of the season was his first scoring fewer than 30 points ... Benkert continued his exceptional play with eight points and strong perimeter defense ... Belmont outscored UCLA in the paint, 32-30.