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'15 for 15' - Memory #1: At-Large and In Charge

'15 for 15' - Memory #1: At-Large and In Charge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram continues his '15 for 15' countdown with memory No. 1 - March Madness 2019.

To appreciate fully Belmont's ride from Selection Sunday to Jacksonville and a mesmerizing back-and-forth game with Maryland, one must first hit rewind.

The Bruins entered the 2019 OVC Championship game with a sparkling 26-4 record, which included signature wins at UCLA, Western Kentucky and Murray State.

The previous season, Belmont had another fine resume, with wins over Vanderbilt, Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Murray State - not to mention last-second heartbreaks at Washington and Providence - only to have postseason hopes dashed by Jonathan Stark and the Racers.

So for the 2019 championship rematch, anticipation and excitement were at an all-time high.

But the Bruins would have to play without star center Nick Muszynski, who injured his ankle in Belmont's semifinal victory over Austin Peay the day prior.

The pain of Muszynski's ankle and the pain endured by 2018 seniors Amanze Egekeze, Austin Luke, Burton Sampson and Tyler Hadden would be amplified as a courageous Belmont performance - and lead in the final minutes - would be wiped away by the tremendous individual play of Ja Morant.

The Belmont locker room in the moments following the 2019 OVC Championship game was a space of hurt and disappointment. 

It was the lowest of lows.

The eight days that followed were a gut-wrenching test of endurance, weighing modest optimism of NCAA Tournament at-large prospects from positive national media coverage to the sobering reality that no Ohio Valley Conference program had earned an at-large bid since 1987.

So when the team gathered Selection Sunday, the room was filled with a wide range of emotions.

But when CBS' Greg Gumbel said 'Belmont' just moments into the bracket reveal, the team erupted.

It was the highest of highs.

And as Coach Byrd stated, Belmont's at-large bid was a transformational moment in the program's history; a monumental statement for what that team - and teams prior - has accomplished.

Then the fun - or challenge depending on your perspective - began. From Selection Sunday until the moment the horn sounded in Jacksonville vs. Maryland, few if any members of the Belmont coaching or support staff slept.

It was a whirlwind of travel planning, scouting reports, media, practices and games that encompassed three cities in less than 96 hours.

In between, the Bruins defeated Temple, 81-70, in Dayton, Ohio March 19 before falling in the final seconds to sixth-seeded Maryland, 79-77, in Jacksonville, Florida 36 hours later.

Ingram's Memories:

"From the at-large bid on Selection Sunday to the win vs Temple in the First Four to the close call against Maryland, it was the most memorable week I've enjoyed in 17 seasons with the Bruins. The joy on Selection Sunday was hard to put into words. The emotion just poured out. I must say the overnight flight to Jacksonville after the Temple win in Dayton was great. Kevin McClain was tremendous. The band and cheerleaders were as excited as anyone, and getting 100 or so people in and out of a hotel in 17 minutes after the Temple game to make the flight must be some sort of record. There was a big tournament bracket in the security screening area. I took out a Sharpie and marked Belmont as advancing, leading to a high five from Seth Adelsperger. I remember doing News2's morning show that Wednesday at 4:30 or 5 in the morning, and for us, it was still night. Even 'Triple Spillage' brings a smile to my face. And if Eric Ayala doesn't trim his fingernails, Belmont is playing LSU. It was that close. It was fun to stand back and watch our guys enjoying the moment, and be happy for everybody over the years that helped make it happen. 2019 March Madness was for everyone."

Throughout July, BelmontBruins.com will unveil Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram's Top 15 memories of the last 15 years - a stretch of unparalleled success for the Belmont program. 

Over that span, Belmont has won 358 games, 19 conference championships, earned nine NCAA Tournament bids and garnered national Top 25 poll votes.

Ingram, an award-winning broadcaster who has documented many of the most iconic moments in Belmont history, will share personal reflections with each post in the countdown.

Belmont University men's basketball has earned postseason invitations 14 of the last 15 seasons, including nine berths to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have won 19 conference championships since 2006 - third-most nationally over that span (Gonzaga, Kansas). Belmont is one of only six NCAA Division I programs outside the Power 5 to post Top 100 rankings 10 consecutive seasons (BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's (CA), San Diego State, Wichita State). Belmont is one of only six NCAA Division I programs to win 19 or more games 15 consecutive seasons (Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Michigan State, San Diego State). Belmont University men's basketball boasts an NCAA-leading 17 CoSIDA Academic All-America selections since 2001 and is the only NCAA Division I program to make the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) Honor Roll every year of existence.