Motivation for latest Battle of the Boulevard goes beyond basics of rivalry

Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 9:28pm

Extra motivation often isn’t needed for rivalry games.

Such is the case for this year’s first installment of the Battle of the Boulevard rivalry between Lipscomb and Belmont.

Separated by three miles, the schools meet for the 129th time, 7 p.m. Friday at Belmont (102.5 FM/104.5 FM).

If the Bruins needed any bonus fuel, all they had to do was look at last year’s won-loss record in Atlantic Sun Conference play. The one blemish in an otherwise perfect 22-1 league mark, including A-Sun tournament play, was a 73-64 setback at the hands of Lipscomb.

"Usually I try to downplay this game because they’re going to be sky-high any way,” Belmont coach Rick Byrd said. “I hope our guys remember that they are the only team to beat us in the league last year and that they won two games the year before that, I believe. I’m trying to forget it so maybe it didn’t happen.”

It did happen.

In fact, while Belmont has drawn more national attention recently — due in large part to last year’s 30-5 record and run to the NCAA Tournament — Lipscomb holds the upper hand recently in the series.

The Bisons have won three of the last four, dating back to Feb. 12, 2009. Lifting Lipscomb in those games was the dynamic inside-outside duo of Josh Slater and Adnan Hodzic. That pair, however, graduated last year.

Instead, coach Scott Sanderson is relying on a squad laden with youth, including six freshmen. Senior guard Jordan Burgason leads the way with 15.4 points a game and 52.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. Guard Zavion Williams has played in the last two games after missing the previous five due to knee surgery. The freshman from Clarksville is averaging 11.8 points and 3.1 assists.

The Bisons (7-9, 2-2 A-Sun) have hit a rough patch lately on the road. Friday’s game will mark their seventh straight away from home game. They have lost five of their last six.

Lipscomb has extra incentive to knock off the Bruins, too. Belmont is leaving the Atlantic Sun for the Ohio Valley Conference after this season. Plus, the Bisons suffered their worst loss in the history of the series last year, losing 88-52 at Belmont.

Though 10 of last year’s lettermen are no longer on the team for Lipscomb, one can be assured the importance of the rivalry was passed along to the seven newcomers.

“That is the first thing they told me about when I signed here,” Williams said. “That’s a rivalry since the school has almost been open. I’m trying to keep tradition. I don’t want to lose to them just like nobody else wants to lose to them.”

Both teams have just one full day to prepare, having played in Florida on Monday and Wednesday.

After losing three non-conference games in six days last month, Belmont (11-5) is back on the winning trail. The defending A-Sun champ has won four straight and is a perfect 4-0 in the conference.

The Bruins’ depth continues to be the key with five players averaging double figures. Junior guard Kerron Johnson leads the team and is fourth in the conference with 14.2 points a game. His 5.2 assists a game is second most in the league.

Belmont will also attempt to protect its 22-game home winning streak, which is the eighth longest in the nation. The last time the Bruins lost at the Curb Event Center was on Jan. 26, 2010.

To whom?

Lipscomb.

“We love winning in front of our home fans,” senior guard Drew Hanlen said. “Obviously, with this game, it is even more pressure to win. At the same time, we don’t really look into those streaks. We’re just trying to get another ‘W’ on our record.”