REMATCH: JU hosts Belmont on Thursday night
It’s been almost nine months since the JU men’s basketball team had its hopes of crashing the Big Dance dashed in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game.

On Thursday night, the Dolphins will host Belmont in a rematch of the title game to open A-Sun play as part of the MPS Group “Night at the Arena” – with free admission and parking to the city of Jacksonville.

The doubleheader with the JU women’s team tips off at 5 p.m., with the men’s game scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m.

“We are excited to partner with the MPS Group to offer this opportunity to the city of Jacksonville,” said JU director of athletics Alan Verlander. “This is a chance for the local community to see this team in action against one of the premier teams in our conference.”

The Dolphins (0-5) have faced the fifth hardest schedule in the country thus far, falling by a total of 30 points – including a two-point loss to Florida State and a three-point loss at Georgia Tech.

All of which is done to prepare JU for the rigors of a 20-game conference schedule that starts with the three-time defending champion Bruins (1-2).

Belmont took the title home last season with a 79-61 win in the title game, hitting 13 3-pointers in the game. The Bruins have won the last six games in the series, a streak dating back to 2005.

“We have faced some very good teams to start the season and had a chance to win a few of those games as well,” said JU head coach Cliff Warren. “The one thing I hope our guys have learned is that they have to play hard for the entire 40 minutes.

“When you are playing a team as well-coached and talented as Belmont, you have to play with maximum effort on every possession.”

One of the players that raised his game of late is junior point guard Ben Smith.

After being held to nine points in the season opener against the Seminoles, Smith has been a one-man wrecking crew – averaging 21.5 points per game in the last four contests.

He scored 30 points against Georgia Tech on Friday, hitting eight 3-pointers in leading JU back from a 24-point deficit. The eight 3-pointers were the most by a Dolphin not named John Knox, who owns the school record with 10.