Last weekend Belmont became the first team in the nation this year to clinch an NCAA tourney bid with a 1-point win over Murray State in the OVC tourney title game. The Bruins lost to the Racers by 15 points back in January but bounced back last weekend to claim the school’s first NCAA tourney bid since 2013. Earlier today Jon Teitel got to speak with OVC tourney MVP Taylor Barnette about what it felt like to make the biggest shot of his life when it mattered the most.
You began your college career at Virginia: why did you decide to transfer, and what made you choose Belmont? I left for some different reasons, but it was just not a good fit for me. I was recruited by Belmont in high school and I did not want to miss out on the opportunity to come here after they called me.
In your last game before transferring you scored 13 points in 13 minutes off the bench in a win over St. John’s in the 2013 NIT: what is the biggest difference between the regular season and the postseason? If you lose your season is over so there is a lot at stake when you take the court: you just have a different mindset.
You scored a combined 13 points in double-digit road losses to VCU and Butler back in December: what did you learn from playing those 2 tourney-caliber teams that you think can help you this week? We played Butler really tight and had a chance to win, but VCU beat us pretty good. We were a very young team back then and we have bought in and improved during the season: we will respond well to whoever we play.
You scored 19 points in a 15-point loss at Murray State back in January: how did you prepare to face them the 2nd time around, and do you think they are one of the top-68 teams in the country? Murray State is a very good team and I hope they get a bid: they had a 25-game winning streak this year. Coach had us very well prepared for the rematch and we have improved collectively as a team throughout the season.
You scored 9 points on Saturday including the tourney-winning 3-point shot in the final seconds of a 1-point win over Murray State: how was the play designed, and did you think the shot was going in? It was not called for me originally, but we had to call a timeout and then Coach designed a play for me during the timeout. I came off of the stack, got a great pass, and thought it was going in.
You were named conference tourney MVP: what did it mean to you receive such an outstanding honor, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus? It was very humbling: we had so many guys play tremendous. We were pretty much the only people around campus last week due to spring break, but they are all coming back today for our selection show party.
You led the OVC by making 83 shots from behind the arc this season: what is your secret for 3-point shooting? You just have to let it fly and trust that it will go in. You miss 100% of the shots that you do not take, and shooting is about 50% mental. It also takes a ton of practice and getting in the gym and taking as many shots as you can to create muscle memory.
You play for Coach Rick Byrd: what makes him such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? He is so humble and a great leader. He is so calm in situations when we are all so worked up. When I hit my game-winner he just stayed calm and called a timeout because he is focused on the little things. He has taught me humility. I remember first meeting him for a team dinner at his house and I assumed he would just have ordered some catered food from a local restaurant, but when I showed up he was serving us burgers off of the grill that he cooked himself!
What kind of seed do you think you deserve, and what kind of seed do you think you will get? I have no idea, but we have been projected around a 14 or 15 seed. We are just looking forward to whoever we play and Coach will have us prepared.
You were born in Lexington and your sister Sarah Beth plays basketball at Virginia: if you end up as a #15 or 16-seed, would you be more excited to play the Wildcats or the Cavaliers?! I am not sure: I would be really excited to play against either one.