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Three Key Takeaways.
- It was another slow NCAA start for Virginia. Last year, #16 Coastal Carolina led Virginia most of the first half in the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament opener and today started out the same way. Belmont jumped out to an early six-point lead, making eight of its first 12 shots against the vaunted Virginia defense. Virginia came back behind Malcolm Brogdon and appeared to have the game under control, but Belmont didn’t quit and made things very interesting down the stretch. For the second straight outing, the Cavaliers’ highly regarded defense has shown some notable flaws. North Carolina shot about 55 percent from the field against it in the ACC Tournament last week, and Belmont’s attacking spread offense caused more problems than expected today. Not only did the Bruins shake free to make 8-of-25 threes, but they also managed to make a remarkable 59.4 percent of their two-point tries and outscored the bigger Cavaliers in the paint (+4).
- Belmont has learned how to be competitive in the NCAA Tourney but not yet how to win in it. The Bruins fell short again for the seventh time in seven trips to the Big Dance, all of them as a double-digit seed. In its first two trips, Belmont suffered blowout losses, but Rick Byrd’s program has shown that it is no longer intimidated by the situation. Before today, the margins of defeat in Belmont’s four previous appearances were all under 20 points, with the most memorable of those being a one-point loss to #2 Duke in 2008. This performance fits in nicely as Belmont’s next-best NCAA effort. While this year’s OVC championship was something of a surprise, next year’s Bruins squad should be better with a solid nucleus returning and the goal of returning to the NCAAs and finally breaking through with a win.
- Justin Anderson is starting to shake off the rust. In his return last week, Anderson didn’t score in two ACC Tournament games while playing limited minutes. He came off the bench again today, but he was much more productive. Anderson played 26 minutes and scored 15 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the floor that included a solid 6-of-7 from the foul line. More important than that, he seemed very comfortable in his movements on both ends. It’s critical that Anderson progresses back to where he was in January when the Cavaliers’ offense was really clicking and looked Final Four worthy.
Star of the Game. Craig Bradshaw, Belmont. The junior guard did a number on the famous Virginia pack-line defense, even banking in a three that looked intentional (at least he sold it well). Bradshaw finished with 25 points and also led all rebounders with nine boards. He was equally effective from both sides of the arc, making 5-of-9 from deep and hitting 5-of-10 on two-point shots.