The Byrd Cage

From 2006 to Anywhere: Jono Looks Back

In Game Posts on March 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Capture

I need to start with a confession:

I honestly don’t remember where I was when the Bruins beat Lipscomb in the 2006 Atlantic Sun Championship game to go to their first ever NCAA tournament.

I remember watching it and knowing what happened, but I don’t remember the details. I don’t remember who I was with, I don’t remember my reaction, I don’t remember the emotion of the win, and I certainly don’t remember being moved by the outcome, one way or another. In retrospect, I’m somewhat annoyed by this. As an avid sports fan, this is something that I should remember. Belmont won in scintilating fashion by the way. Down three with just 20 seconds left, Justin Hare produced the most famous of all 3-point plays in Belmont history to send the Bruins to overtime and their eventual win.

It was the most dramatic of triumphs for a team desperately wanting to get over the hump. It was a rite of passage. It was the validation that is required for any mid-major Division I program hoping to grow into a relevant, yearly contender. It was the announcement to the basketball community that Belmont had staked its claim as more than an innocent bystander to the success of basketball in the state of Tennessee. It was a moment that seemed to launch the Bruin program onto an untraceable trajectory.

Success followed success. One tournament appearance became two, two became three and before long, the name Belmont all but became synonymous with March Madness. As the notoriety and exposure grew, so did the expectations. A once tiny, unassuming private liberal arts school in the shadow of Vanderbilt was now the darling of a growing number of national fan brackets. If you didn’t have the Bruins upsetting their first round opponent, you weren’t paying attention.

The expectations have been met with somewhat chilled results. Other than a dramatic 1-point loss to the Duke Blue Devils in 2008, that Bruins have left little imprint on the NCAA tournament landscape. Whether we like or not, Belmont will likely not get the respect we would ask for without that tournament win. Who cares if you’ve won 5 out of the last 7 ASUN tournament championships? Who cares that you’re the only team besides Kansas to win at least 10 conference games each of the last 12 years? Things have changed for the Bruins this year. After 5 failed attempts to crack the tournament code and a change of conferences, Belmont was seeking validation again.

“Winning the ASUN is one thing”, they said, “but the OVC is a whole other animal. You’re competing against a conference that has won a tournament game each of the last 4 years. You’ve got to contend with the returning OVC Player of the Year and a team that lost only twice on its way to a 31 win season. You’re not just going to waltz into this conference and win like you did in the ASUN.”

******

On Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee Kerron Johnson hit the two biggest shots of his career. One gave the Bruins five extra minutes of excruciating life, and the other sent Belmont Boulevard into euphoria. They were moments that cemented the legacy of the most competitive and polarizing (at least at the Byrd Cage) guard in the program’s history and the legacy of the most successful recruiting class during Belmont’s tenure in Division 1 basketball.  I could have sworn I had seen that story play out before. There was so much about that moment that felt oddly familiar, as if I had opened a book I hadn’t read in many years. It felt as though the Bruins had proven themselves… again. In a strange way, using the same script, but with different characters, Belmont had rewritten a part of their history. We channeled this moment in time that set the program on a new course and used it to take the next step for a team that has taken Bruin basketball to another place.

******

Unlike that version of me 7 years ago, I will remember this game; each and every moment. I will remember the significance of winning the OVC for the first time in our first try. I will remember how it felt to prove ourselves again. How it felt as if we were not going to be taken seriously, until we crossed this bridge… again. And it felt as if, in the most dramatic of all its triumphs, Belmont had to come full circle, to the “original” most dramatic of triumphs.

– Jono

Editor’s Note: If you’re up for it,  It’s pretty cool to go back and look at the Tourney Media guide from 2006 where the above photo was taken from.

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  1. Great work here, Jono.

    Like you, my memories are vague of what the heck I was doing in 2006 but I know I was watching. I remember just being excited that my friends back home in Arizona would finally here about the random school I chose to attend in Tennessee. It would be fun to attempt to chart Belmont’s notoriety and growth as a university with the success of Rick’s program.

  2. I need to spell check these comments before I post them . . .

  3. I was there. On our way to South Carolina for Spring Break, we took a detour to Johnson City, TN. Horrible place. I don’t remember anything about the game except Justin Hare’s three point play and Andy and Hare jumping up and down near half court as the buzzer sounded. I remember feeling elated as the team cut down the nets. I remember verbally replaying just about every nuance of the game with the other three guys in the car. We watched SportsCenter for the first three days of spring break and everyone would cheer when Belmont would pop up on the screen. The joke among media was that Belmont couldn’t dance on campus but were going to the Big Dance.

    It’s funny, before you posted this I was just thinking about the fact that I think about the last 8 years as if it were the only 8 years of Belmont’s history. But we are the beneficiaries of a long tradition of truly great basketball teams. It may not be as big of deal but Belmont was a huge name in the NAIA. It’s incredible to think about all the minor successes that took place along the way to get BU to where it is today. I wonder if, 8 years, 16 years, 24 years from now we’ll look back and talk about that first OVC Championship and how huge it seemed at the time.

    Regardless, I’m happy to be a fan of a program that has had such steady success over the last 8 years and I’m excited to see it continue.

  4. Great retrospective perspective! One small correction: the Dook game in ’08 was a 1-point loss. (70-71) I know, I know…it seems minor, but I’m not sure a 2-point loss would’ve been nearly as excruciating for us all, both then and now.
    Really enjoy the blog, guys. Keep up the great work!

  5. Great post. This Texan will always be a bruin fan. Good writing Jono.

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