The No. 7 Bellarmine Knights overcame a torrid start by the host McKendree Bearcats to record an 87-66 victory in a Great Lakes Valley Conference game at the Harry Statham Center.
The Bearcats (11-12, 2-11 GLVC), opened the game by jumping out to a nine-point lead as they hit six of their first nine 3-pointers. However, Bellarmine closed the first half on a 21-8 run to claim a 44-40 edge at halftime.
The Knights (21-2, 12-2 GLVC) continued that momentum in the second half, scoring the first six points of the period to open up a 10-point advantage. Although McKendree kept within striking distance by making 12 of their 21 3-point attempts (57.1%) for the game, the Knights’ defense clamped down in the second frame to run out to a 24-point lead before the Bearcats’ Brandon Noah drilled the final trifecta of the night to make the final margin 21.
“Basketball is a funny game,” said Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport. “We get outscored 18 points from the 3-point line, free throws are a wash, but we turn them over 21 times and…they only score 66 in the game.”
Davenport added that the Knights are No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense and gave up 40 points in the first half but held McKendree to 26 in the second. “It was a very frustrating first half, but a very fun second half. That’s the way the game was played,” Davenport said.
Brent Bach pumped in 21 points to lead the Knights with Alex Cook adding a career-high 18 points. The sophomore from Louisville filled up the stat sheet by also contributing five rebounds, four assists and blocking four shots. Meanwhile junior Adam Eberhard flirted with a triple double by collecting 10 rebounds, scoring eight points and handing out eight assists.
However, perhaps the most impressive statistic on the night was freshman CJ Fleming’s six steals, which ties for third-most in Bellarmine program history. Interestingly, his six steals match his season-long total of just six turnovers.
Ten different players scored for the Knights with 12 seeing action.
The Bearcats’ Justin Blanks, who leads the GLVC in scoring, improved on his scoring average by netting 24 points, which included a 4-for-7 performance from beyond the arc. Nate Michael also had a hot hand for McKendree totaling 19 points and going 4-for-6 from three-point land.
Despite their cold start, the Knights heated up with 55.6 percent shooting in the second period and finished converting 52.2 percent of their field goals overall. They also overcame an early rebounding deficit to win the battle of the backboards 39-31.
Defensively, Bellarmine held the Bearcats to just 33.3 percent shooting after halftime as McKendree cooled to 40.7 percent for the game. The Knights were particularly stingy in the paint, blocking a season-high eight shots and holding the Bearcats to 12 points from inside the lane. By comparison, the Knights poured in 52 points in the paint.
Next up for the Knights is a road trip to Evansville, Indiana on Saturday night to face Southern Indiana in an 8:30 p.m. game. The Screaming Eagles were upset by Illinois Springfield on Thursday night and slipped to third place in the league standings. With their victory tonight Bellarmine maintained its position on top of the league standings.
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by John Spugnardi