Tom Sorensen

Belmont Abbey isn’t in NCAA tournament, but thanks for thinking of Crusaders

Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., has a beautiful campus and a basketball team that went 2-26 this season. It’s not Belmont University, which is in Nashville and has a team playing in the NCAA tournament in Charlotte. If you’re confused, you’re not the only one.
Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., has a beautiful campus and a basketball team that went 2-26 this season. It’s not Belmont University, which is in Nashville and has a team playing in the NCAA tournament in Charlotte. If you’re confused, you’re not the only one. jkomer@charlotteobserver.com

The Belmont Bruins ran onto the court at Time Warner Cable Arena early Thursday afternoon, and the first surprise of the NCAA tournament in Charlotte occurred.

Nobody yelled, “Go Abbey!”

The Belmont Bruins, who will play Virginia on Friday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament, are occasionally confused with Belmont Abbey. The Bruins will be on the road, in an airport or a restaurant, and they’ll hear, “Ah, Belmont Abbey.”

Belmont Abbey hears Belmont more.

One tweet last week: “Belmont knocks off Murray State (winner of 25 in a row). Pope Francis has to be thrilled.”

Belmont beat Murray State, and the Pope was not available for comment.

Belmont Abbey basketball coach Martin Unger’s mom lives in Richmond, Va. A friend called to congratulate her. Martin’s team had made the NCAA tournament. Unger’s stepfather was having lunch with a friend and the friend said, “Congratulations on making the tournament.”

The Ungers might be in the market for savvier friends.

Belmont Abbey is Catholic school with 896 students 12 miles west of downtown Charlotte. Belmont, which has 7,300 students, 5,900 of them undergraduates, is in Nashville, Tenn.

Belmont, an NCAA Division I team. Belmont Abbey an NCAA Division II team.

Belmont wears red and blue. Belmont Abbey wears crimson and cream.

Belmont went 22-10 this season, 11-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont Abbey went 2-26, and 1-19 in Conference Carolinas.

About six months ago Belmont Abbey received a trophy from the Golf Coaches Association of America. The trophy was nice, the GCAA was 400 miles off. To Nashville the trophy went.

Another tweet: “Belmont also used to be known as Belmont Abbey and coached by Al McGuire.”

The theme to the tweets and emails Belmont Abbey has received could be reduced to a sentence. Congratulations on making the tournament, cool that you get to stay in Charlotte and how come you dropped your last name?

McGuire, who went on to win an NCAA championship at Marquette, coached the Crusaders in 1957-63. He won 109 games and lost 64. He is better known for his work at Marquette, where he won his NCAA title.

If you’re Belmont Abbey, it’s cool to know that McGuire, who was as adept at making people laugh as he was at winning games, was on your campus and in your gym.

So were Bobby Hussey, Eddie Payne, Rick Scruggs and Kevin Eastman. Eastman is an assistant with the Boston Celtics.

Belmont Abbey athletics director Stephen Miss says his school has had a better collection of basketball coaches than Belmont, and he’s right. Miss, incidentally, was 113-87 in seven seasons leading the Crusaders’ basketball team.

Some of Miss’ coaches go out to recruit and are told, “Oh, sure, Belmont.”

But all publicity is good publicity.

“That’s what they say,” Miss says.

Belmont Abbey has a fine basketball tradition. It also has a beautiful campus where, in the sunshine earlier this week, every student seemed to be doing something and was happy about what he or she was doing.

The Abbey wants students outside, and in the classroom and in the striking and stately Abbey Basilica of Maryhelp, which was built in 1892 and renovated in 1965.

None of this mattered to the Wisconsin fan who left an angry message after failing to find information about the basketball team on the school’s website. Belmont was about to play the Badgers in the 2011 NCAA tournament. Doesn’t the game matter to you people?

When Belmont beat North Carolina 83-80 in Chapel Hill four years ago, somebody tweeted: “What’s it feel like to lose a game to a bunch of nuns?”

On Friday Belmont will play Virginia on Belmont Abbey’s turf. If there is confusion, the Bruins hope it has to do with defenders failing to stop their creative 3-point attack.

For whom are you pulling, Stephen Miss?

Miss responds by email.

“I always pull for Belmont (Abbey),” he says.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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