DAYTON, Ohio — Belmont University coach Rick Byrd would have been happy losing to Temple University on Tuesday, knowing it’s coach Fran Dunphy’s last season.
The Owls won their last NCAA Tournament game at University of Dayton Arena, with Khalif Wyatt playing hero in a 2013 first-round game against North Carolina State University.
Temple couldn’t win in its return to Dayton, falling, 81-70, to Belmont University on Tuesday night in a First Four game. Instead of congratulating Dunphy, Byrd celebrated Belmont’s first NCAA Tournament win in its eight tries. His team advances to face the University of Maryland on Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida.
Dunphy tied a Big 5-record with his 17th NCAA Tournament appearance, but it ended like many of his others did — with a first-round loss. In the last game of his 13-year career with the Owls, Dunphy’s career record fell to 3-17 in NCAA Tournament games, with a 2-8 record at Temple.
“I’m just disappointed for the guys that we’re not able to continue on and go to Jacksonville and play against a team like the University of Maryland,” Dunphy said.
“I will reflect in the coming days,” he added. “And again, I’m very appreciative of what Temple University gave to me, what the University of Pennsylvania gave to me. And I’m a pretty fortunate guy.”
In its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2015-16 season, Temple faced the second-highest scoring offense in Division I. The Owls limited Belmont’s leading scorer, senior forward Dylan Windler, to five points on 2-of-7 shooting, with sophomore guard Nate Pierre-Louis guarding him for most of the game. But hot shooting nights from the Bruins’ two other double-figure scorers helped them win.
Senior guard Kevin McClain finished with 29 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, while all-Ohio Valley Conference freshman center Nick Muszynski scored 16 points.
Muszynski returned to the lineup after missing the Bruins’ Ohio Valley Conference championship loss to Murray State University on March 9 because of an ankle injury. He missed about six layups in practice on Monday, Byrd said, and was unsure of how well he’d play.
Muszynski had an efficient game, shooting 8-for-12 from the field. Dunphy opted not to double-team or send help defense because of his passing ability, giving him one-on-one matchups in the post against sophomore forward Justyn Hamilton and senior center Ernest Aflakpui.
“As good as he was playing, I was not the least bit concerned about his ankle at that point,” Byrd said. “He needed to be in for us to be good.”
Muszynski played a key part in the Bruins’ offense, which operated almost exclusively in either the paint or beyond the 3-point arc to space the floor. The Bruins have played similarly all year long. Entering play, Belmont had taken 41.2 percent of its shots at the rim and 44.1 percent from 3-point range.
“They stuck to what they were good at and shot the three and post-ups,” senior guard Shizz Alston Jr. said. “But we knew they were going to do that. That’s why sometimes their numbers are so good, because they just stick to what they do well.”
Belmont had two key runs in the second half. The Bruins used the first to take the lead from Temple, and they used the second to keep it.
Belmont erased Temple’s 52-47 lead with a 9-0 run in the span of two minutes, eight seconds. During one of Temple’s offensive possessions in this stretch, it grabbed two offensive rebounds but couldn’t score.
Pierre-Louis made a free throw to cut Temple’s deficit to one point with 8:01 left, but Belmont created separation with a 7-0 run that included a 3-pointer by McClain.
“I think toward the end of the game…we weren’t as efficient, weren’t as sharp, weren’t as crisp as we needed to be,” Dunphy said.
Alston’s shooting helped Temple take the lead out of halftime. He started the second half by making four of his five attempts, including three 3-pointers, to help the Owls go on a 15-4 run to tie the game at 46.
He finished with 21 points on 8-of-22 shooting in his final game as an Owl. Before the Owls left the court, he gathered the team under one of the baskets.
“I just thanked them for their work and allowing me and Ernest to get to the NCAA Tournament like we wanted so badly,” Alston said. “Me and Ern got here our freshman year. We hadn’t been back since and I thanked them for all their hard work helping us get back here.”