CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It’s becoming an oft-repeated mantra lately, but good defense trumps good offense. The Belmont Bruins came into their NCAA tournament second round meeting with Virginia as David against Goliath. But this David had a little more firepower than a slingshot.
The Bruins entered the tournament ranked fourth in the nation in 3-pointers made per game, but their shooting was put to the test against the top scoring defense in the country.
Virginia’s lockdown defense earned them a regular season ACC Title and a 2-seed in nearby Charlotte. The Cavaliers allow just 50.8 ppg, the third best average in the shot clock era, and are responsible for three of the top five defensive efforts from a Power 5 conference team this season (26, Rutgers; 28, Georgia Tech; 34, Wake Forest).
To say it would be a challenge for Belmont to score the ball would be an understatement, even with their offensive firepower. The Bruins led by as much as six early in the first half, but trailed by eight at the half. Virginia matched their firepower punch for punch as both teams went 5-12 from behind the arc in the first frame.
“I don’t know that we did a whole lot to stop it,” head coach Rick Byrd said of Virginia’s first half shooting. “[Malcolm] Brogdon just had a really good first half and not such a good second half shooting. I think they focused more on getting the ball inside.”
It seemed as though Belmont might actually pull off the upset when Craig Bradshaw knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in 40 seconds. The second bucket cut the Virginia lead to just two with 4:37 remaining, but it was not enough to get over the mountain. Bradshaw went 5-9 from behind the arc and led all scorers with 25 points.
“I don’t think you ever think you’re going to win the game against those guys, they string together some stops.” Bradshaw said of that momentum swing. “I felt good about how I was shooting. We were running a good offense and they just made some good stops at the end. They made more winning plays in the end.”
Virginia closed the game on a 17-7 run to pull away with the victory and move on to a third round meeting against Michigan State on Sunday.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.