The Bellarmine Knights put together its best showing of the season today in handing the No. 7/11 Lincoln Memorial Railsplitters a 98-84 defeat in front of a near capacity crowd in Knights Hall.
Junior Rusty Troutman poured in a career-high 34 points and hauled in a game-high eight rebounds to lead the Knights, but Head Coach Scott Davenport was the most pleased with the team effort Bellarmine gave tonight, citing the 21 team assists and gang-rebounding totals as statistical evidence of their team play.
“The key to the game is that they’re (Lincoln Memorial) so talented at the one, two and three positions,” Davenport said. “In the first half they were 13 of 20 from the field and in the second half those same three were eight of 24. “That’s our perimeter players making some defensive adjustments, and I couldn’t be more proud. Nobody loves to talk more than I do, and I can’t put into words how proud I am.”
Today’s game was one of the marquee games of the season in Division II basketball as last year’s No. 1 seeds from the Midwest and Southeast regions collided in a game that strangely enough counts as an in-region game since LMU is located in Tennessee (a state that borders Kentucky.) In terms of rankings, the Railsplitters came in No. 7 in the media poll and No. 11 in the NABC (coaches) poll while Bellarmine was ranked No. 13/17. The game lived up to expectations as the 14-point victory margin wasn’t indicative of the competitive nature of the game.
In the opening half, the 1,921 fans in Knights Hall were treated to an excellent display of basketball as Bellarmine and LMU battled back forth with the opening 20 minutes featuring 13 lead changes and four ties. The largest margin for either team was just four points in the opening period. Three point shooting was particularly impressive as the teams combined to drain 16 of 30 shots beyond the arc. Bellarmine’s George Suggs, who finished with a season-high 18 points, was a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown while Lincoln Memorial’s Gerel Simmons matched Suggs’ accomplishment by draining all three of his triples in the first half.
Bellarmine held a 43-41 advantage, but the game saw its 14th lead change on the opening possession of the second half when Simmons connected on his fourth trey of the game. However, the Knights answered with a layup by Yasin Kolo, and Bellarmine surrendered the lead just once briefly the remainder of the game.
Playing well on both ends of the floor, the Knights built a 10-point lead at the 4:27 mark after Suggs made another 3-pointer then blocked a shot on the defensive end, and Adam Eberhard finished the series with a triple from the left wing just in front of the Bellarmine bench.
The Railsplitters battled back and made it a two possession game at the 1:51 mark. Following a Bellarmine timeout, LMU was assessed a technical foul after receiving its second warning for breaking the huddle late. Troutman made the free throw, and then Kolo converted a layup on one of Al Davis’ 10 assists to give BU a 90-81 lead. Suggs recorded his third blocked shot of the game, before both teams had empty possessions. After an LMU foul, the visitors were assessed two more technical fouls-one on guard Luquon Choice and one on the coaching staff. Troutman made all four of the technical free throws, and Michael Parrish converted both charity tosses from the original foul as the Knights found themselves with an insurmountable 96-81 lead with 54 ticks left on the clock.
The Knights finished the second half making 15 of their 21 shots for a sizzling 71.4 percent from the field and knocked down a season-best 64.6 percent of their shots for the game. Lincoln Memorial, which came as the second best shooting team in the country, was held to 45.6 on the day.
Bellarmine also won the battle of the boards30-28 despite giving up 10 offensive rebounds to the Railsplitters.
In terms of individual performances, Troutman and Suggs were the Bellarmine leaders while Eberhard turned in a near-perfect line in the box score. The freshman from Evansville finished the day with 15 points after going 5-for-5 from the field, 4-for4 from the free throw line, grabbing six rebounds and picking up an assist, a steal and a blocked shot.
Other noteworthy performances by the Knights were turned in by Davis (just two turnovers while dishing out 10 assists), Kolo (15 points) and Parrish (11 points). Davenport also gave a postgame shout out to sophomore guard Jarek Coles for “providing a spark off the bench.”
The Railsplitters were led, as Davenport alluded, by their trio of guards with Simmons totaling 23, Jalen Steele dropping in 21, and Choice finishing with 16.
Bellarmine improves to 9-2 overall while LMU slips to 10-2.
The Knights now move on to exclusively Great Lakes Valley Conference play. Bellarmine, which is 2-0 in the league, will travel to William Jewell on Thursday before facing Rockhurst on Saturday for their first and longest GLVC road trip of the year.
by John Spugnardi,