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.
Temple: Former Owls star Aaron McKie takes over for Dunphy. McKie is an assistant on Dunphy’s staff. The Owls haven’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2013, when they beat N.C. State at Dayton before losing in the second round. They went 2-8 in eight appearances under Dunphy.
Belmont: The Bruins got only the second at-large NCAA Tournament bid in Ohio Valley Conference history, along with Middle Tennessee in 1987. They’d dropped their seven appearances when they had automatic bids.
Belmont heads to Jacksonville, Florida, for its game against Maryland.