Men’s basketball earned a hard-fought OVC title and entry to the Big Dance, but it was their attitude off the court that brought even greater applause.

It was a dramatic, heart-stopping finish no matter how you look at it. Graduate student Tyler Scanlon made a reverse layin with 3.8 seconds left as Belmont men’s basketball defeated Murray State, 76-75, March 7. As the horn sounded, Belmont players erupted in pure jubilation, winning their first OVC Tournament Championship since 2015 and earning an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Coach Casey Alexander noted after the game, “It was an emotional game, such a great game… Ebbs and flows of two good teams going at it with big play after big play. I’m glad we had the last good possession with the ball.”

And sadly, it was the last possession not just of the game but of the season. Five days later the NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments due to COVID-19, and the March Madness every player and fan enthusiastically anticipated simply disappeared. “It’s kind of a weird feeling, the finality of it all,” Scanlon told The Athletic columnist Joe Rexrode. “It happened so abruptly. It was just over. Usually, there’s a certain sequence to things, survive and advance, win or go home. This was win and go home.”

Tyler Scalon’s game-winning buzzer beater

But despite the disappointment, Scanlon and seniors Michael Benkert and Seth Adelsperger made it clear to Rexrode that they knew they were blessed. They finished with a Championship. In fact, they finished with four: a regular season title, the Tournament Championship, the 2019–20 OVC Sportsmanship Award and top billing on the 2020 NCAA Tournament Academic Bracket, a product of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Responding to how he and the team were handling the season’s end, Alexander concluded, “Life is going to have disappointments, and this is a life lesson for all of us. How we handle it is our only responsibility at this point. There’s really no better time to exercise your faith than in moments like these. That’s what being a believer is all about is understanding whether good or bad, God is in control. We have so much to be thankful for.”

Belmont University men’s basketball head coach Casey Alexander has been named finalist for two national coaching awards, announced Monday.