Belmont has been here before. After four times at the “big dance,” the Bruins are looking for their elusive first NCAA tournament win against the Georgetown Hoyas Friday in Columbus, Ohio.
“Last year, people were happy to get here, and this year it isn’t the same. We’ve got a lot of guys on the team who have been here before, a lot of guys are ready to take that next step and get this win,” said junior guard Ian Clark.
The Bruins will enter Friday’s contest fifth in the nation in effective field percentage according to Ken Pomeroy, a perfect statistical match for Georgetown’s number five ranking in effective field goal percentage defense.
Since facing teams like UCLA, Georgetown, and Duke in previous NCAA appearances, Belmont head coach Rick Byrd feels that this year’s team has developed a sense of belonging and sheer talent that didn’t exist in past years.
“We weren’t really competitive with those teams, and probably couldn’t have been competitive over 40 minutes. I think it’s important to note recruiting. We have better players than those teams did right now because of what those players did back in ’08.” Byrd said.
Both Byrd and the players are hoping to build off of last year’s first round loss to Wisconsin in preparation for the Hoyas.
“I think we’re facing a similar kind of defense, a defense that doesn’t necessarily extend itself but they’re always there. They want you to take tough shots down the floor and their numbers prove they can do it in a big way,” said Byrd.
As the nation’s best 3-point defense, Georgetown’s pressure outside the paint will prove a daunting task for the Bruins, who “live and die by the three.”
“We’ve won games where we didn’t shoot well from the three point line, but we do rely on it. There’s a big difference in making 11 out of 25 and five out of 25. It’s going to be hard to get great looks, but when we get them, we need to shoot them,” said Byrd.
Belmont’s offensive game plan is not the only adaptation the team will be forced to make. The Hoyas run a Princeton style offensive, which leads to a slower style of play and involves lots of passing and backdoor traps.
None of Belmont’s Atlantic-Sun opponents run this style of offense.
“I just think we have to come out and be more confident. Coach has talked all week about playing like you belong. I think that’s going to be a big thing for us. We know we can hang with these guys. We have to come out and attack and be aggressive. We have to defend without fear,” said junior guard Kerron Johnson, the A-Sun tournament MVP.
Tip-off between the Bruins and Hoyas is slated for Friday at 3:10 EST on TruTV.