Belmont celebrates its first Division I conference tournament championship in 2006. (Courtesy Belmont Athletics)

ASN MADNESS MOMENTS | Belmont bounced biggest rival for first NCAA Tournament bid

During the 31 days of March, we feature some of the greatest moments from the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in the history of ASN's family of schools. Today: Belmont.

The Belmont men's basketball team has reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in the two decades since moving up from NAIA in 1996.

The first, clinched on March 4, 2006, marked the Bruins' arrival in Division I — a moment judged the greatest in Belmont's sports history.

The Bruins advanced to their first NCAA Tournament with a 74-69 overtime victory over rival and No. 1-seeded Lipscomb in the Atlantic Sun Tournament championship game, Belmont's first conference tournament title. The reward of an NCAA bid only raised the stakes in the "Battle of the Boulevard" series that dates to 1953.

"The fact that it was the two of us just upped the ante big time," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said after the game. "If we'd been playing Gardner-Webb or East Tennessee State we would have wanted to win bad, but we wouldn't have gone home and listened to who won for two weeks and naturally so. And they didn't want to have to do it either."

The players compared it to the Tobacco Road series between Duke and North Carolina.

"It's a big rivalry," Belmont's Josh Goodwin said, "but this is a smaller scale."

The Bruins rallied from a small deficit, 53-47, with 6:33 remaining in the game to force overtime. Tournament MVP Justin Hare led the Bruins with a career-high 32 points, including 10 in overtime.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," Byrd said. "There are a very difficult few years when you go Division I. We lost a lot of games and played some good teams.

"The guys who lost those 40 and 50 point games are the reason why we're here. They paid the price and I appreciate it."

Belmont lost to No. 2 seed UCLA 78-44 in the NCAA Tournament, but the Bruins have been making most opponents pay the price ever since.

They have won at least 20 games in 10 of the last 11 season, including the previous four in the Ohio Valley Conference.

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