News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

November 13, 2013

Belmont coach toils under radar

Byrd seeks 665th career victory tonight against ISU

TERRE HAUTE — During his four seasons, Indiana State men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing has compiled a career record of 57-44. Not too shabby.

Lansing locks horns tonight against Belmont head coach Rick Byrd. Byrd’s career record? 664-349. Byrd is one of just 78 coaches in college basketball history who has 600 or more victories at a four-year college.

Byrd is currently tied with former ISU and UCLA boss John Wooden in career wins. Nice company to be in.

So how come Byrd isn’t better known? It’s not for lack of accomplishment, it’s just that much of it was done out of the national spotlight.

Byrd has taken the Bruins from the NAIA ranks to perennial Division I NCAA Tournament participant in his 28 seasons at the Nashville school.

Lansing knows the Sycamores will have to be sharp to take down Byrd’s Bruins when they meet at 8 p.m. tonight at Belmont’s Curb Event Center.

“It’s an honor and a little overwhelming to face a guy that’s won that many games and coached that long. The program he’s established there is unbelievable,” Lansing said.

Belmont’s rise through the Division I ranks under Byrd has been impressive. The Bruins moved from NAIA to Division I in 1996 and have suffered just three losing seasons since the transition.

Belmont joined the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2001 and won or shared six conference titles and advanced to five NCAA Tournaments. Included was a 71-70 loss to Duke in the 2008 Tournament when the Bruins were a No. 15 seed.

Belmont joined the Ohio Valley Conference last season and promptly won the league and conference tournament. It’s one reason why Belmont was mentioned as a potential Missouri Valley Conference expansion candidate last spring after Creighton left the league.

Byrd is the reason for the Bruins’ success. Lansing doesn’t know Byrd, but he sees some reasons for Byrd’s success.

“They play very hard and competitive and they’re disciplined. They’re well-schooled and they have a plan. They carry out that plan and they’re going to make you have to beat them,” Lansing said. “They do a good job of spreading you out. When you close out, they shot-fake and drive. They’re very tough to defend.”

Belmont is 1-1 so far. The Bruins defeated crosstown rival Lipscomb 87-83 and lost 69-61 at Richmond on Monday. Belmont has nine newcomers on its roster, but still boasts three senior starters, including forward Blake Jenkins, who averages 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.

Belmont’s signature in its first two games is its ability to get to the foul line (44 of 67 in two games) and shaky rebounding. Belmont foes have averaged 40 team rebounds per contest.

“They’re a good team. It’s going to be a good road test and its basically like a conference game since they come back to our place,” ISU swingman Khristian Smith said.

ISU and Belmont have an in-season home-and-home series. The Bruins play at Hulman Center on Dec. 28.

Lansing didn’t think ISU played “particularly well” in its 82-73 victory over Ball State last Saturday, but feels the Sycamores need to do better. It starts with a better defensive effort.

“We weren’t very good at all against Ball State. We had breakdowns in a lot of different areas. We have to be tougher to play against on the defensive end,” Lansing said.

n ISU gets NLI’s from three recruits — All three ISU basketball recruits delivered National Letters of Intent on signing day Wednesday. Lansing is thrilled to have guard Charles “Tre” Bennett, guard Laquarious Paige and center Brandon Murphy in the fold.

Bennett and Paige are from Texas. Bennett played high school ball at both Milby and Yates High Schools in Houston. After finishing up at nationally-ranked Yates, Bennett played at prep school Rise Academy in Philadelphia for a year before he enrolled at Lamar State College, a junior college in Port Arthur, Texas.

The 5-10 point guard averaged 8.8 points and 2.8 assists for the Seahawks last season. He also drained 40.7 percent of his 3-point shots.

“He’s a tremendous get for us. He really knows how to play. He’s averaging over 20 already in his season. With us losing three seniors, including our point and combo guards, he can step right in. We thought it would be hard for a freshman to come in and run the team,” Lansing said.

Paige is a 6-foot-2, 175-pound point guard from Orange, Texas. He plays at West Orange-Stark High School. He averaged 16 points and four assists last season.

“Laquarious is a special kid. He’s self-taught on the guitar and piano. He’s a 3.7 student. We beat Harvard on him, so that tells you the kind of kid he is,” Lansing said. “He’s kind of unknown because he didn’t play on the major AAU circuit, but we look for great things from him down the road.”

Murphy — 6-foot-7, 270 pounds — will give the Sycamores considerable bulk inside. Murphy plays at Carver High School in Montgomery, one of Alabama’s powerhouse programs. Murphy averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds as he helped the Wolverines finish 27-2 last season. Carver won Alabama’s 6A championship in 2012.

“We haven’t had anyone like him since I can recall. He’s a post. That’s what he is. He’s going to patrol that paint and he’s going to compete,” Lansing said.

ISU was tipped about Murphy by a one-time Sycamore — Mississippi State coach Rick Ray — who was an assistant at ISU from 1997-2004. Current assistant coach Marcus Belcher took over from there and helped get Murphy to ISU.

“Rick told us about him. They have two [Carver] players on his team, one that’s there and one that’s coming to them. He said we needed to look at him,” Lansing said. “We looked at him in July, loved him, and tried to keep quiet about it so no one else found about him.”

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