After the epic clash in Johnson City, Belmont would go on to earn three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids from 2006-2008, culminating in a one-point loss to college basketball powerhouse Duke in the 2008 Tournament.
The Bruins bombarded the Blue Devils with three-pointers and slowed down Duke’s high-powered offense. The second-half was shown on CBS, prompting many casual viewers to be introduced to and immediately latch onto the Belmont bandwagon, as Duke has a reputation of being easy to hate.
Hare gave the Bruins a 70-69 lead with two minutes remaining, before Duke’s DeMarcus Nelson regained the lead with 12 seconds left. Hare had a shot to win it at the buzzer, but his half-court heave missed to the left, and Belmont fell just short at 71-70.
“When they almost upset Duke was huge for the school because I think it might have been a CBS game, so the entire nation was watching Belmont hang with Duke, a storied program,” McKeegan said. “They became kind of a household name because they kept showing up in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Bruins grabbed two more bids before jumping to the Ohio Valley Conference where it has reached two more NCAA Tournaments in the past four years.
“The transition from where we came from, – an NAIA school – to a mid-major that’s really making some noise is a neat story to be a part of,” Behling said. “Those teams that we started were the beginning of something that we had no idea how far would go.
“To be able to play a Duke, a UCLA, a Wisconsin…if somebody would have told me that 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Belmont players have won six other Conference Player of the Year awards since the move to Division I: Adam Sonn (2003), Alex Renfroe (2009), Ian Clark (2013), J.J. Mann (2014), and Evan Bradds (2016, 2017).
In the 2015 season, sharpshooter Craig Bradshaw was featured in CBS’ One Shining Moment montage after his 25-point performance during Belmont’s near upset of Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
Renfroe, Mann, Bradds, Bradshaw, Kerron Johnson, and several other former Bruins are currently starring for some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
“Kids that aren’t being recruited by Power Five schools are like ‘this is like the South’s sort of Butler right now’ I can go there and have success,” McKeegan said.
“With Ian Clark making it in the NBA, that helps. He’s showing that you can come to Belmont, play basketball, and be recognized and not be lost in all the clutter. That ASUN Championship was the tipping point, and then that Duke game helped them get nationally recognized for better recruits.”
Clark who signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in the offseason, won an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors. He is currently the only player from either school to make it to the NBA.
“It’s great to represent Belmont in the NBA,” Clark said. “That’s something that obviously every young kid wants to do. You want to be able to play in the NBA. But, it also highlights the kind of program we had at Belmont.”
Due to the limited number of roster spots available in the league, it is rare for a player from a mid-major program to not only make it in the NBA, but achieve success. Clark’s former teammate Steph Curry is one of the best examples, winning two MVP’s and two NBA titles after his time at Davidson.
Clark, former Tennessee State forward and current Philadelphia 76er Robert Covington, Morehead State product and Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, and former Murray State Racers and Chicago Bulls guards Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne making it helps highlights the level of talent the OVC has to offer. And the level of talent Belmont has consistently taken down on the road to winning conference crowns.
“A lot of guys from mid-major schools get overlooked, but if you can play basketball they’ll find you,” Clark said. “There were a lot of other guys that were in our conference that are in the NBA now that came from mid-major schools, and that we played in the OVC. Being able to be one of those guys is special.”
Lipscomb has yet to make the NCAA Tournament after making the move to Division I, and they have only produced one ASUN Player of the Year: Bosnian-American Adnan Hodzic, who led the nation in field goal percentage during his junior year before turning pro.