DAYTON, Ohio - - Behind 29 points from senior Kevin McClain (Jennings, Fla.), Belmont University men's basketball defeated Temple, 81-70, in the first four of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship.
The 11th-seeded Bruins advance to face 6th-seeded Maryland Thursday at 2:10 p.m. CT from Jacksonville, Florida.
It was an emotional night - and decades in the making for head coach Rick Byrd and scores of players past and present - as Belmont secured its first NCAA Tournament victory in program history, in its eighth overall appearance.
Belmont entered the tournament field with an at-large bid for the first time, wearing home white uniforms as the designated higher ranked team in the field of 68; with it coming hope and expectations.
But a talented and accomplished Temple team from the American Athletic Conference would await, with its own venerable and respected head coach in Fran Dunphy.
Though Belmont would be making its eighth NCAA Tournament appearance in 14 years, it would be the first trip to the Big Dance for all active roster members, including trusted seniors McClain and Dylan Windler (Indianapolis, Ind.).
The dynamic duo welcomed back a friendly face Tuesday, as All-OVC center Nick Muszynski (Pickerington, Ohio) made his first game appearance since missing the OVC Championship game due to an ankle injury.
All three would play leading roles on college basketball's grandest stage.
After Temple scored the game's first basket, Belmont scored eight unanswered points, capped by a transition 3-pointer from junior Michael Benkert (Greenwood, Ind.).
Moments later, Temple center Ernest Aflakpui would be whistled for his second personal foul, forcing him to the bench.
A basket from junior Seth Adelsperger (Peru, Ind.) and a McClain 3-pointer stretched the Belmont lead to seven, 15-8, five minutes in.
But just as Belmont appeared to gain a nine-point advantage, an Adelsperger rim-run score bounced off and Temple responded with a Justyn Hamilton basket to get within five.
J.P. Moorman II capped a 14-2 Temple run and gave the Owls a 22-17 lead.
Muszynski stabilized things for Belmont midway through the first half, with Belmont reclaiming a 25-24 lead on a McClain driving basket.
Freshman Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.) made a strong impact throughout the game, but in particular his timely passing and fearless drives enabled Belmont to maintain momentum.
As Belmont limited Temple to three field goals the final 8:58 of the half, another McClain dash to the basket gave Belmont a 37-31 lead at halftime.
Belmont shot 53 percent (16-for-30) from the field in the opening 20 minutes - including 5-for-13 from 3-point distance.
Though Windler would be limited to three first half field goal attempts, he grabbed seven rebounds and three steals.
Byrd often stresses the first four minutes of play in the second half, and Belmont answered that call with purpose and zeal. After a Muszynski blocked shot, Windler found Benkert in transition for a baseline 3-pointer that pushed the Bruin lead to nine, 40-31, with 19:27 left.
Following another defensive stop, Muszynski added a determined post score to increase the margin to 11.
The Belmont players, bench and support section in University of Dayton Arena were sensing a big Bruin run.
But in a flash, Temple had other ideas, and momentarily, flipped the script.
Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr. led the Owls on a 10-0 run to close within 42-41 with 15:01 remaining.
Muszynski scored twice in succession to get Belmont back on track, but Temple capped the burst on a Nate Pierre-Louis basket to lead 52-47 with 11:24 to go.
A McClain offensive rebound putback basket sparked Belmont once again, and from there, the Bruins would not look back.
A Benkert straight-on 3-pointer off a perfectly timed Muszynski feed highlighted the 9-0 Belmont response and gave the Bruins a 56-52 advantage with 8:51 left.
After a Pierre-Louis conventional 3-point play, freshman Adam Kunkel (Hebron, Ky.) delivered one free throw and sophomore Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tennessee.) added a courageous 3-pointer to push the margin back to five, 60-55, with 6:56 remaining.
As Belmont strung defensive stops together, McClain buried a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to give the Bruins an eight point lead.
Another clutch Muszynski post move at the 4:26 mark made the score 65-57, as Belmont held Temple to one field goal during a six minute stretch.
Strong situational team basketball - and 9-for-10 free throw shooting from McClain in the final 3:11 - secured the outcome.
As the final seconds ticked away, it was a flood of emotion for the Belmont players and coaching staff, and pure joy ensued as the horn sounded.
All told, Belmont shot 53 percent (28-for-53) from the field - including 9-for-23 from 3-point distance.
Aside from McClain's 29 points, Muszynski added 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Windler had a game-high 14 rebounds, while Murphy had nine points, six rebounds and six assists.
Alston led Temple (23-10) with 21 points.
All eight Belmont players who played scored.