In a game that easily earned the “instant classic” description, the No. 13 Findlay Oiliers converted two of three free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining on the clock to pull out a 74-73 victory over Bellarmine in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Championship’s Midwest Region being hosted by Ferris State University in Wink Arena.
After overcoming a nine-point second half deficit, the second-seeded Knights surged out in front coming down the stretch. The Oilers fought back to regain the lead in the last minute, but Brent Bach’s pull-up jumper from the free throw line gave Bellarmine a 73-72 advantage with just over 31 seconds remaining.
On Findlay’s ensuing possession, they worked the clock down before Martyce Kimbrough missed a shot with less than three ticks left on the clock. In the scramble for the rebound, Bellarmine’s Jarek Coles was whistled for a blocking foul.
Because that was just the Knights’ fourth foul of the half, the ball was awarded to the Oilers under their own basket. Findlay inbounded the ball to Elijah Kahling who fired off a quick 3-pointer from the left baseline. The ball rattled out, but a foul was called on Bellarmine’s Alex Cook, who was closing out on the shooter.
Kahling went to the line with 1.5 seconds and made the first two before intentionally missed the third. Bellarmine grabbed the rebound and called an immediate timeout that officials ruled came with nine-tenths of a second left in the game.
Bellarmine’s attempt at a length of the court pass was batted away by Findlay and time expired to send the Oilers to the regional final.
“That was two great teams playing,” said Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport, “and each team having the lead in the last (minute)…that’s as close a basketball game as you can have. They shoot 56 percent and we shoot 58-5. I don’t know how two teams could play any better.”
Bach finished with 26 points to lead all scorers. The senior from Augusta, Kentucky came up big in the second half, making seven of 12 shots and scoring 17 of his points after halftime.
The Oilers were paced by Taren Sullivan and Kimbrough, who netted 22 and 20 points respectively. Both players hit big shots with several coming from way behind the 3-point line. In fact, the duo combined to make nine of 15 trifectas. None of which was bigger than Kimbrough’s off-balance triple as the shot clock expired with three and a half minutes in the game. The shot essentially kept Findlay within striking distance as the Knights led by six at the time.
Bellarmine got a 16-point effort from Cook, who added six rebounds as well. Adam Eberhard contributed 10 assists to go along with five rebounds and six points, and senior Jarek Coles finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
The Knights close the season 29-3 with the 90.6 winning percentage ranking second-best in school history. Asked about that fact in the postgame press conference, Eberhard replied, “That’s all great, but right now I’m grieving for my brothers. The seniors-they are three guys who are never going to put on a Bellarmine jersey again, and so my heart’s out to them and I’m feeling it as well. The season was a success, but when you’re playing for a program like this, it becomes the norm. That’s why I’m so lucky to be a part of this program.”
The three seniors-Bach, Coles and Rhett Troutman-end their careers having been a part of 115 wins, the most in any four-year period of Bellarmine basketball. They also lost just once on the Knights Hall floor, going 59-1 at home in their four years.
Davenport lauded his seniors and his entire team for their effort and achievements outside the game of basketball. “My message in the locker room after the game was, ‘never apologize for caring.’ If everybody in society cared as much as those kids care about each other and about the game of basketball, about their academics, then this society would be in great shape. Those 15 kids in the locker room and those four managers…we need them in our society, and I’m proud of them.”
by John Spugnardi