"Belmont plays very similar to us," says first-year Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo. "They shoot a lot of threes and they spread you out. They shoot a high percentage from three, and they take a lot of attempts from three. It will be a game where we have to defend them at the three-point line and limit their second shots as always."
Thursday's game will be only the second ever meeting between the two schools in basketball. Auburn won the previous battle 65-56 in a hard-fought game on Dec. 1, 1999. The only common opponent so far this year is Middle Tennessee State. Auburn beat the Blue Raiders 79-74 in San Juan and Belmont lost on the road to MTSU 66-47 on Nov. 29.
The Belmont Bruins of Nashville, Tenn., are 2-6 overall, 1-0 in the Atlantic Sun Conference and are coming off one of the best seasons in school history. The 2003-2004 squad finished 21-9 overall, 15-5 in the ASC, and landed a berth in the NIT.
"Athletically we will be a little bit quicker than Belmont," Lebo says. "They do a lot of neat things and they have a terrific coach in Rick Byrd. They are a team that went to the postseason last year and won a lot of games. We will have to make the adjustments necessary to play against a different type of team than we played in any of the three games that we played in San Juan."
The Bruins are led in scoring by reserve senior guard Nick Otis at 10.4 points per game. Senior guard Jesse Snyder adds 10.1 points as the only other scorer in double figures. Unlike most teams that Auburn faces this year Belmont won't have much of a size advantage inside as 6-10, 210-pound center Andrew Preston is the only starter taller than 6-6.
For Auburn, freshman guard Toney Douglas continued his hot hand in San Juan with 13 points and 18 points in wins over Delaware and MTSU and 23 in the 68-65 loss to Toledo on his way to being named tournament MVP. His 18.9 points per game scoring average is only a tenth of a point behind Alabama's Earnest Shelton and LSU's Brandon Bass for tops is the SEC.
Nathan Watson was also selected to the All-San Juan Shootout team after scoring 14.3 points and pulling down 5.3 rebounds per game.
Tipoff for Auburn vs. Belmont is scheduled for 8 p.m., Dec. 30 and will be televised on CSS.