JU rides four-game winning streak into Saturday’s game against Belmont
Facing one of the toughest schedules in the country, the JU men’s basketball team got off to a slow start.

On Saturday, the Dolphins (7-8, 4-3 A-Sun) have their first shot at getting the ledger back to even when they host Belmont at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Tipoff is set for 3:15 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on 1010XL, with Barry Milligan and Artis Gilmore calling the play-by-play.

Since returning from the Christmas break, the Dolphins have won seven of eight and have won four straight since an 0-3 start to Atlantic Sun Conference play.

“The Christmas break came at a good time for our young men,” said JU head coach Cliff Warren. “Since they came back, we’ve played with more confidence and continue to improve each day.”

Jacksonville has risen from last place into a tie for fifth place and are back in the thick of the A-Sun title race after dispatching former conference leader Lipscomb on Thursday, 79-73.

Now, the Dolphins face a familiar foe in Belmont. JU swept the Bruins a year ago, winning on their home floor in overtime on the last day of the regular season to clinch the A-Sun title.

“Belmont is good team, that is well coached and hungry to play us,” Warren said. “We know we have a tall task on our hands.”

Part of Jacksonville’s meteoric rise from the cellar is due to the stellar play of senior Ben Smith. Smith has scored at least 20 points in each of the last eight games, averaging 23.1 points per contest during the streak.

Smith is getting help from his teammates as well, with somebody new stepping up each game. Ayron Hardy was the hero on Thursday, scoring a career-high 20 points and knocking down three timely 3-pointers to snuff out any Lipscomb hopes for a comeback.

Belmont (9-8, 4-3 A-Sun) is coming off of a 45-43 loss at UNF on Thursday, losing to a tip in at the buzzer for its second straight loss and its sixth in the last eight games.