Jacksonville State (7-9) at Belmont (8-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 2, 8 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Curb Event Center (5,085) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: JSU 5-1, Belmont 3-1. Away Record: JSU 1-7, Belmont 3-5. Neutral Record: JSU 1-1, Belmont 2-0. Conference Record: JSU 1-0, Belmont 0-0. Series Record: Belmont leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: The Belmont Bruins will open up their Ohio Valley Conference schedule on Thursday night, as they welcome the Jacksonville State Gamecocks to the Curb Event Center.
JSU began its OVC slate on Monday night, as it came away with a 70-65 home victory over Tennessee-Martin for its second consecutive win. The Gamecocks have been up-and-down this season at 7-9, and they have played especially poor on the road with just one win in eight tries away from their home floor.
Belmont, which lost just seven games during the entire 2012-13 season, is off to a disappointing start by its lofty standards, opening up just 8-6. The Bruins' futility has reached new lows of late with four straight losses, most recently dropping an 85-73 decision at Indiana State on Dec. 28, but now they return home for the first time in more than a month.
The Bruins hold a 4-3 lead in the all-time series with JSU, which includes a two-game sweep last season.
The Gamecocks trailed UTM for much of their OVC opener, including by eight points with under 10 minutes to play, but they pieced together a 20-9 run to take the lead for good with 3:48 left. They shot a modest 43.4 percent from the floor on the night, which included just a 3-of-11 showing from 3-point range, but they made up for it with a strong effort at the foul line (21- of-29) and by protecting the basketball (eight turnovers). Darion Rackley put up a game-high 22 points in the victory, Brian Williams added 16 points and six assists and Nick Cook registered 10 points, nine rebounds, four steals and two blocks.
JSU typically isn't so fortunate, as it gets outshot by its opponents this season, 46.7 percent to 43 percent, for a -3.4 scoring margin, and it doesn't often help itself at the charity stripe with a lackluster 65.8 percent efficiency. Rackley (13.8 ppg) and Williams (10.3 ppg) are the only two players to average in double figures on a nightly basis, although neither shoot greater than 30 percent from beyond the arc.
The Bruins fought hard with Indiana State in their latest bout and even led by one with just over 10 minutes to play, but they lost control down the stretch and eventually suffered the disappointing 12-point loss. They were impressive from the field in making 47.1 percent of their shots, including 10 3-pointers, but were ultimately done in by 19 turnovers, which resulted in 20 points for ISU. Craig Bradshaw was stellar in spite of defeat with 18 points and six assists, although he shot just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and committed five turnovers. Evan Bradds netted 15 points off the bench, while Reece Chamberlain scored 12.
On the season, Belmont has had no problems putting points on the board, as it shoots 48.9 percent from the field and drains 9.0 3-pointers per contest at a 38.2 percent clip for 79.6 ppg. Its issue is with its defense, which allows opponents to nearly keep up every step of the way (.480 FG percentage, 78.3 ppg). JJ Mann (16.2 ppg) has assumed the position as the leading scorer this season, but his poor field goal percentage (.398) indicates that sometimes he hurts his team more than he helps. Bradshaw (13.7 ppg) and Drew Windler (12.6 ppg) are both much more efficient from the floor at greater than 51 percent apiece, with Windler knocking down 55.4 percent of his long-range tries, which ranks fourth in the nation amongst players with at least 30 3-pointers. Chamberlain (10.1 ppg) rounds out the double-digit scorers.
With Belmont's struggles of late, it'll be more than happy to finally return to its home floor. Against the inconsistent Gamecocks, expect the Bruins to get back on the winning track.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Belmont 84, Jacksonville State 75
01/02 10:34:15 ET