Three-game losing streaks don’t bother Rick Byrd much anymore. He’s now in his 29th season in charge of Belmont (the fourth-longest current tenure in Division I men’s basketball) and in a one-bid league like the Ohio Valley Conference (or the Atlantic Sun, previously), he knows that it’s all about the conference season. After all, his Bruins withstood a four-game losing streak at around the same time last year, but still managed to go 14-2 in conference play before being upset by Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament semifinals (not to mention coming seconds away from the NIT Final Four in a loss at Clemson). Add to the fact that Byrd is fairly mild-mannered, especially by the standards of big-time college basketball coaches, and surely he took those defeats in stride. Or not.
“If you’re competitive, it’s never easy at all to lose,” Byrd said over the weekend. In fact, he actually picked up a rare technical (he says they’re not quite as rare as you might think) in December 11’s Wright State loss, which was the team’s second straight defeat at home. After a sluggish first half on Saturday at Fairfield, Belmont looked more like Belmont in the second half, picking the Stags — which were already 2-0 in the MAAC — apart for 44 second-half points (and 1.33 points per possession) in a 73-61 victory. The Bruins will travel to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse next week for their final non-conference tilt. Although losing is no fun, Byrd did see some positives for his young squad in the losing streak, which played all three games without leading scorer Craig Bradshaw, who returned from an injury against Fairfield. “It does help you understand that you can still be a good basketball team in the end,” Byrd said. “We got beat by two good teams, Evansville and Wright State, Wright State without our starting wing [Taylor Barnette], too. And we played good enough to win that game. Last year, we got beat by South Dakota State by double figures, went to Denver and got beat by 28. This has been a little better performance. VCU was too much for us, but it does help to say, ‘Look, we lost to Denver last year by 28 and we won the league’. But it’s still no fun to lose.”