Belmont gave Duke all they could handle on Friday night, losing 77-76 in the season opener for both teams. A three-pointer by Andre Dawkins put Duke up four with just under 20 seconds to go, and kept Belmont from having a final possession with a chance to grab what would have easily been the biggest win in the history of the program.
On Friday night in Durham, Belmont reminded everyone of March 2008, when they nearly knocked off second-seeded Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament, losing 71-70.
Not too much was expected of Belmont going into this game, except for them to play their role in moving coach Mike Krzyzewski within one win of the all-time Division I-record 902 wins.
How quickly we can forget—this Belmont team returned four starters from a team that won 30 games last season and made the NCAA tournament as a No. 13 seed. They are certainly a veteran team, starting three seniors (forward Mick Hedgepath, center Scott Saunders and guard Drew Hanlen) and two juniors (guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson) in the opener with Duke.
An experienced lineup is a large part of the formula that comes with success in March, and Belmont is almost as certain a bet to be in the NCAA’s as Duke is. Nobody else in the Atlantic Sun is within two levels of where Belmont currently is.
As for Duke, a team who lost longtime team cornerstones in Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, a slight drop-off in play early this season wouldn’t be too much of a surprise. Freshman Austin Rivers should help ensure any drop-off is minimal.
Put the two teams’ situations together, and perhaps this result is about what we should have expected.
Now Belmont will take the confidence and hunger from their near miss against Duke and head back to Tennessee, for another opportunity against a Top 10 team. The Bruins will play at No. 9 Memphis in an early game on Tuesday, part of the ESPN 24-hour hoops marathon.
A game like this could come at a perfect time for Belmont, with the performance against Duke still fresh. However, that performance should further heighten the attention of Memphis as well. It will be difficult to sneak up on Coach Josh Pastner’s team at this point.
After the Memphis game, there aren’t any other big opportunities out there for Belmont to get any notable non-conference wins. Their games against Duke and Memphis are actually part of the preliminary portion of the Maui Invitational. However, unlike Duke and Memphis, the Bruins will not get the chance to head out to Hawaii to showcase themselves even further. Instead, they get to play Towson. That’s not exactly an RPI enhancer.
It’s rather unfortunate. This team could certainly compete against the likes of Tennessee, Michigan, or UCLA—a few of the other teams who will be part of the eight-team field in Maui.
This all makes the upcoming game against Memphis that much more important for Belmont. It’s definitely a game worth watching if you’re fortunate enough to have access to a TV at noon on a Tuesday.