The Bellarmine University men’s basketball team’s first season in Division I ended in a postseason tournament, as the Knights were rewarded with an overture from the College Basketball Invitational after a campaign few, if any, saw coming.
In the semifinals of the CBI on Tuesday night, Pepperdine locked down on Bellarmine in the second half after the Knights lit up the Waves in the first stanza, turning the tables on BU after halftime in capturing an 82-71 victory at the Ocean Center.
The loss ended an inaugural season in D1 in which Bellarmine (14-8) was the regular-season runner-up in the ASUN, played for the regular-season title on the final day of league play, had a string of 10 straight conference victories and, finally, earned an invitation to a postseason tournament.
“They took us on an unbelievable ride,” Knights Coach Scott Davenport said, “and they want more. That bodes well.”
Carrying over a sizzling showing on offense from the second half of a 77-67 quarterfinals win over Army on Monday night, Bellarmine shot 64.5 percent in the first half against Pepperdine (14-12) and sank 7-of-13 from 3-point range in building a 50-41 lead at halftime.
However, Pepperdine limited Bellarmine to only 21 points on 19.4 percent shooting in the second half. That turnaround on defense led the Waves to outscoring the Knights 41-21 after the intermission. Pepperdine shot 56.1 percent for the contest behind Kessler Edwards, who finished with a game-high 28 points.
“You’ve got to give them a ton of credit,” Davenport said. “In the second half, they were just dominant on both ends of the floor.”
Senior forward Ethan Claycomb paced Bellarmine with 16 points, four assists, four steals and four rebounds. Senior guard CJ Fleming and junior guard Pedro Bradshaw tallied 13 points apiece, while junior guard Dylan Penn added 12, eight rebounds and four assists.
“When the emotion subsided,” Davenport said, “the whole locker-room talk was about what to do to get better.”
Bellarmine’s only two seniors, Claycomb and Fleming, plan to use the extra year the NCAA has granted for all players competing this season during the pandemic, meaning the Knights stand to return intact.
“Those players are phenomenal representatives for everything that’s right in college athletics, on and off the floor,” Davenport said. “I can’t wait to coach them again.”
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