Source: USA TODAY
NASHVILLE — Belmont hasn’t lost a men’s basketball game at Curb Event Center since Jan. 6, 2012, and the Bruins don’t plan to Sunday even though they are hosting their first ranked opponent in the building’s 10-year history.
The Bruins put the nation’s longest current home winning streak — 23 games — on the line against Virginia Commonwealth.
“If you want to hold the record, you don’t want to just beat a bunch of teams that anybody could beat,” senior J.J. Mann said. “You want to be able to say you hold the record and have some credibility behind it, and beating a great team like VCU at home is going to prove that it’s a legit record.”
Virginia Commonwealth (5-2) ranks 24th in the USA TODAY coaches poll and is receiving votes in the Associated Press poll after dropping games to Florida State and Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
“We’re excited about it,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “We appreciate VCU playing home-and-home and giving us a chance to play such a great program and great team. We have our work cut out for us, but hopefully we will have a lot of folks show up.”
Belmont (7-1) made the trip to Virginia Commonwealth exactly one year ago today, losing 75-65 after falling to an 18-point halftime deficit fueled by 17 first-half turnovers.
“Playing them last year is definitely going to help us,” Mann said. “We can learn from those mistakes from the first half. Watching film is good, but it is really about making plays and being players against their press because it is so good.”
Byrd indicated that solving Virginia Commonwealth’s defensive intensity may require more than just deciphering what the Rams have done on film because much of their defensive pressure comes from effort.
“I watched eight hours of film and the problem is you don’t know what to expect,” Byrd said. “They have such a great press and attack and they are always coming at you — they never back off.”
Virginia Commonwealth is just the next of what has turned out to be a challenging non-conference schedule for Belmont. After taking down No. 16 North Carolina last month, the Bruins are set to face seven consecutive opponents that participated in postseason play last season, including a visit to No. 4 Kentucky on Dec. 21.
“It makes our team better,” Byrd said. “I really believe that it is good for us. Win or lose, it really helps your team get better and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Nick Cole also writes for The Tennessean in Nashville.