Taylor Barnette reports being a 21st Century March Madness hero carries hidden challenges. Take managing your cell phone.
The former Lexington Christian star hit the game-winning three-pointer that broke Murray State's heart (and its 25-game winning streak) in the OVC Tournament finals Saturday night and put Belmont University into the NCAA Tournament.
In the joyous Bruins' locker room, Barnette made a crucial decision: He chose not to check his phone for text messages.
"We miss out on so much these days just because of our phones," Barnette said Tuesday at Lexington Christian. "I just wanted to enjoy the time with the people I was with in the present, like my teammates and coaches and my family and friends."
So it was after Barnette got back to his Nashville apartment late Saturday night before he turned his phone on. He already had some 300 congratulatory text messages.
"I was overwhelmed. I was like 'Man, I can't do this.' It was just crazy," Barnette said. "But it just shows how I've been blessed with great people in my life."
To earn all those texts, Barnette rode the epic March Madness roller coaster in the final minutes of Belmont's victory over Murray.
With 1:12 left and Belmont clinging to an 85-82 lead, Barnette lost the ball off his foot. Murray star Cameron Payne made the Bruins pay for the error with a game-tying trey.
"I don't know if on TV you saw it, but I about ripped my hair out," Barnette said. "I was like 'Oh man, the seniors are going to kill me if we don't win this game.'"
The basketball gods had a very different destiny in mind for the younger brother of Sarah Beth Barnette, Kentucky's 2010 Miss Basketball.
With Murray State up 87-85, Belmont's Nick Smith misfired on a three-point shot with 11 seconds left. Murray rebounded, but the Racers fumbled the ball out of bounds. Belmont Coach Rick Byrd set up a play for the Bruins' leading scorer, Craig Bradshaw.
However, there was a clock malfunction in the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. Since Murray State had now seen how Belmont was lining up, Byrd changed the play. This time, he called for Barnette to come off a high screen to try a potential game-winning three.
As he left the Belmont bench, Barnette said he spoke a prayer.
"I said out loud 'Lord, give me the strength to hit this shot, give me the confidence. And He did,'" Barnette said. "I came off the screen, my mind was clear. So much of shooting is mental, you've got to believe it is going to go in. And I did."
It went in.
In Lexington, Brad Carter, who coached Barnette for his first three seasons at Lexington Christian (Tommy Huston coached Barnette during his senior year), was watching the game telecast over a cell phone at a social function.
Carter couldn't help but think about the first game Barnette had started at LCA as a freshman. It was in the Bobby Keith Classic at traditional Eastern Kentucky hoops power Clay County.
"He's a little skinny freshman, and he goes in there and hits four three-pointers right off the bat," Carter recalled. "... Taylor always had confidence. He never shied away from the big moment."
Barnette's path from LCA to Belmont was filled with turns. The Bruins recruited him hard out of high school, but they told Barnette they had one scholarship for a guard and it would go to either Bradshaw or Barnette based on who committed first.
Bradshaw committed first. "Coach Byrd called me and told me," Barnette said. "I was pretty stunned."
Barnette signed with Central Florida. After that school faced NCAA sanctions, he asked for and was given a release from his letter of intent. Barnette then chose Virginia. He started two games for the Cavaliers as a freshman in 2012-13, even scored 13 points against St. John's in an NIT contest.
Feeling UVa. was "not the right fit," Barnette decided to leave. Belmont contacted him again and said it now had room. "The opportunity came a second time, and I wasn't going to pass up on it," Barnette said.
He chose the Nashville school, sitting out last season as a transfer.
This year, Barnette has averaged 10.7 points, 2.6 rebounds and made almost 40 percent (39.9) of his three-pointers.
He also made the shot that put Belmont (22-10) into the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
On the floor after the victory over Murray State, Barnette looked for his parents, Ross and Michelle. When he saw his dad, Taylor noticed Ross had tears in his eyes.
"Those were tears of joy," Ross Barnette said. "After all he'd been through, sitting out, to see him hit that shot, knowing what it meant to the team, it was just very emotional."
His parents told Taylor they had a surprise for him. Sarah Beth Barnette, a senior forward at Virginia, had driven to Nashville for the game.
"Sarah Beth was so proud of her little bro, just giddy for our team," Taylor Barnette said. "It was really cool."
Belmont was on spring break this week. That gave the first hero of March Madness, 2015, time to deal with those 300 text messages.
"It took a (long) time to respond to everybody, but I did," Taylor Barnette said. "I just felt like it was the right thing to do."