Dayton, Ohio — A few seconds were still left on the clock when Fran Dunphy headed to midcourt for his final postgame handshake, the outcome long decided. Belmont was simply too much for his Owls.
Nobody else in the NCAA Tournament is excited to face their efficient offense, either.
Kevin McClain scored 29 points and led the decisive second-half run as Belmont got its first NCAA Tournament win, pulling away to an 81-70 victory Tuesday night and ending Dunphy’s career in the First Four.
The 11th-seeded Bruins (27-5) play Maryland on Thursday 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 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 at 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 at 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 last 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.
More First Four
Fairleigh Dickinson 82, Prairie View A&M 76: Darnell Edge scored a career-high 33 points, and Fairleigh Dickinson rallied to win its first ever NCAA Tournament game, taking down Prairie View A&M in the tourney opener in Dayton, Ohio.
Edge was 7-for 9 from beyond the 3-point line, and Jahil Jenkins scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half for the Knights (21-13), who advanced out of the First Four to play No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Prairie View (22-13), also seeking its first tournament win, built up 13-point leads in both halves, but Fairleigh Dickinson took control in the second half behind the shooting of Edge and Jenkins.
A 3-pointer by Gary Blackston pulled Prairie View back to within two points, 78-76, but a layup from Mike Holloway Jr. and a pair of free throws by Edge with 17 seconds left sealed it for Fairleigh Dickinson.
Blackston led the Panthers with 26 points and Devonte Patterson had 17.
Martelli out at Saint Joseph's
Phil Martelli was never boring over a 24-year run as coach at Saint Joseph’s, and was never better than in 2003-04 when he led the Hawks to a No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a run to the Elite Eight.
But Martelli could never duplicate that historic season, and a string of losing seasons finally caught up the popular coach perched on Hawk Hill.
Saint Joseph’s fired the 64-year-old Martelli on Tuesday following a third straight losing season (14-19 this season) and with the Hawks making only three NCAA Tournament appearances since 2004.
“Coach Phil Martelli stands among out among his peers in college basketball not only for his long tenure and the many accolades that he and his teams have achieved, but also for his engagement with the community and his service as an ambassador for SJU,” the school said in a statement. “The University recognizes and celebrates the history and heart that Coach Martelli brought to the program and thanks him for his long service, dedication and stewardship.”
Saint Joseph’s athletic director Jill Bodensteiner was hired last March.
“I did an analysis of this year, primarily, and decided we weren’t helping those student-athletes maximize their potential, individually or as a team,” she said.
“I didn’t feel like we were giving the student-athletes an optimal chance to succeed.” Bodensteiner said it was “excruciating” to let go of a Saint Joseph’s great.
Hawk Hill won’t be the same without the bald, big-bellied and quick-quipped Martelli. He’s a Philly lifer and the second seasoned Big 5 coach to leave at the end of the season: Fran Dunphy will retire from Temple at the end of the NCAA Tournament. Jay Wright, who has won two national championships at Villanova, is now the dean of Philadelphia’s six Division I coaches.
Asked if Martelli was given a chance to retire on his own terms, Bodensteiner said, “I’ll let Phil tell that story, out of respect for him.”
Martelli declined to comment, saying he was spending the day with his family.
Martelli was named the 14th coach of the private Jesuit school in 1995 and led the Hawks to the Sweet 16 in just his second season.
But Martelli, a sports talk radio regular and tireless fundraiser for Coaches vs. Cancer, forever stamped his legacy with the 2003-04 season. He recruited Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, both NBA first-round picks, and they dominated as perhaps the top backcourt in Philadelphia basketball history. The Hawks opened the season with 27 straight wins. They reached No. 1 in the AP poll and were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. Nelson was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The Hawks lost to Oklahoma State in the East regional final and finished 30-2. Martelli was AP coach of the year.
Martelli went 444-328 (.575) with Saint Joseph’s and made the NCAA Tournament seven times.