Belmont, Fairleigh Dickinson open NCAA tournament with First Four wins

  • Belmont win to end Fran Dunphy’s 30-year coaching career
  • Darnell Edge’s 33 points lifts Fairleigh Dickinson in First Four
  • March Madness: our writers predict the NCAA tournament

Belmont guard Adam Kunkel looks to shoot over Temple’s Derek Sabin during the second half of Tuesday’s game. Photograph: Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports

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 Temple coach Fran Dunphy’s career in the First Four.

The 11th-seeded Bruins (27-5) play Maryland on Thursday in the East Region.

Belmont got at-large bid after losing to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title game. The Bruins showed that the selection committee’s faith was not misplaced, getting the breakthrough win on their eighth try.

The loss sent Temple (23-10) into a transition at the top. Dunphy is retiring after his 13th season at Temple, where he replaced John Chaney. Dunphy previously coached 17 seasons at Penn.

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.

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, and Belmont pushed the lead to 12 while closing it out. 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. Windler came in averaging 21.4 points.

No16 Fairleigh Dickinson 82, No16 Prairie View 76

Eleven months ago, Fairleigh Dickinson coach Greg Herenda was seriously ill with life-threatening blood clots. On Tuesday night, he danced on the court and hugged his players after they secured the first NCAA tournament win in school history.

Senior guard Darnell Edge scored a career-high 33 points and Jahlil Jenkins had 20 of his 22 points in the second half as the Knights capped a furious comeback by taking down Prairie View A&M 82-76 in a First Four game on Tuesday night.

“It’s overwhelming,” said Herenda, in his sixth season at the Hackensack, New Jersey, school. “When you coach for 35 years and you take a team to an NCAA tournament and a team that, when I got here six years ago, we had nothing. And to build it, and then it’s here, and it’s so sad that every coach can’t experience this.”

Fairleigh Dickinson (21-13), which got the automatic tournament bid by winning the Northeast Conference Tournament, won its first NCAA tourney game in six tries. The Knights move on to play Gonzaga, the No1 seed in West Region, 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.

“Jahlil Jenkins has the biggest heart in Ohio right now,” Herenda said. “As a sophomore, he took over the game in the second half.”

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.

“Having coach go through that last year, I remember us being in practice and him always just telling us that he just wanted to be there with us,” Edge said. “All he thought about while he was in the hospital was us. So we rallied together, and it’s just a great win for us, for our program.”

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