Behind the Belmont bench for (almost) the greatest upset in the history of March Madness.

The stadium scene.
March 21 2008 11:22 AM

Dispatch From the NCAA Tournament

Behind the Belmont bench for (almost) the greatest upset in the history of March Madness.

(Continued from Page 1)

After the game, Renfroe takes the blame, casting himself as Chris Webber in reverse. "It was supposed to be a lob, but it was a bad read by me and a bad pass. I should have called a timeout," he says. "I wasn't thinking."

It wasn't Renfroe's fault. First, he was Belmont's best player all night, scoring a team-high 15 points and constantly cutting up Duke's lead-footed perimeter defenders with drives to the basket. Second, Triangle probably wasn't the right play; Belmont hadn't run any lobs all game long but did have five players on the floor capable of hitting a spot-up jumper. On the podium at the postgame press conference, Byrd absolves Renfroe of any fault. ("Thanks, Coach," Renfroe says. The coach's jokey rejoinder: "We'll talk about your defense later.") It was a dumb play call, Byrd says, and besides, Belmont had a bunch of other missed opportunities. Justin Hare, for one, missed a shot that would've put the Bruins up by three with just over a minute to go. "If we'd scored earlier, if I had run a better out-of-bounds play, if Justin's shot had gone in," Byrd lamented, "we probably wouldn't have played any better, but we'd be still celebrating out there and the world would be talking about us."


After the NCAA's official interview session, I walk with Byrd in the hallway to the locker room to get in a few more questions. The longtime Belmont coach, a folksy 54-year-old in a maroon sweater-vest, confesses that he heard the roar of the crowd but says he never got nervous. "There are a lot of games I don't have any fun coaching," he says. He talks about the pressures that Duke must face, how they're expected to win every game, before making his way back to his own experience: "It was the most fun game I ever coached in."

As his wife and daughter stand and wait, and a woman walks past to tell the coach the team bus is about to pull away, Byrd keeps talking. When Justin Hare shot the ball in the lane with a minute to go, Byrd says, he's not sure the Duke defender was in "legal position"—not that he's saying there should've been a foul called. He continues, saying he told Mike Krzyzewski how he's trying to turn Belmont into "a mini-version of Duke."

I get the feeling that I'm hearing the first run-through of a story that Rick Byrd will be telling for the rest of his life. Belmont's one-point loss is just 10 minutes old, and it already sounds like he's on his front porch, 20 years later, talking about the one that got away. As the coach spins his yarn, guard Andy Wicke, who made a late 3-pointer to get the Bruins within one, walks past in his warm-ups and tells his coach his plans for the evening: "Yes, sir, I'm going to go with my parents." Then comes Alex Renfroe, walking with his head down and a plastic-covered dinner plate in his hand. He gets a consoling hug from the coach's wife and continues down the hall. He's in more of a hurry than Byrd is to leave the building, to get on the team bus. In the background, you can hear the roar from the West Virginia-Arizona game. The winner will play Duke, but it coulda, woulda, shoulda been Belmont.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.