ASHLAND, Ohio. - A season of rebirth suffused with unprecedented and/or history-matching accomplishments that will take its rightful place among the best in program history came to its conclusion Friday for the Bellarmine University women's basketball team.
The 20th-ranked and third-seeded Knights could never shake their shooting struggles in the Midwest Region quarterfinals of the Division II NCAA Tournament while falling 69-58 to sixth-seeded Saginaw Valley State at Kates Gymnasium on the campus of Ashland.
It was a frustrating end to an otherwise sublime season for Bellarmine, which finished 24-4 in tying the best win percentage (85.7, 1995-96) in program history. The Knights also captured their first-ever Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament title.
Bellarmine was making its 15th appearance in the NCAA Tournament but first since 2008. Unfortunately, the Knights couldn't carry over their offensive efficiency from the GLVC Tournament against Saginaw Valley State (22-8), posting season lows in points (58), field-goal percentage (28.6) and field goals made (18).
However, Kelsey Adwell was a statistical giant for Bellarmine. The junior guard scored a career- and game-high 23 points behind 6-of-10 shooting from the floor and 11-of-12 accuracy from the free-throw line. She also garnered game bests in rebounds (nine), assists (four) and steals (three).
Sophomore guard Raven Merriweather added 11 points, but Bellarmine struggled mightily in areas where it often excels. The Knights were outscored 25-7 in bench points and 34-20 in the paint. They forced Saginaw Valley State into 23 turnovers but only capitalized with 17 points off of them.
Saginaw Valley State wasn't lights out from the floor, but the Cardinals shot a solid 46.7 percent overall and were on target in the second half (9 of 15, 60 percent). They also didn't help Bellarmine in any way at the free-throw line, sinking 26-of-30 attempts (86.7 percent). The Knights were nearly as good from the charity stripe, making 19-of-23 chances (82.6 percent).
Bellarmine gained an early 9-6 lead, but Saginaw Valley State held an advantage for much of the game thereafter. The Cardinals were ahead 16-12 after one quarter and 28-25 at halftime.
Bellarmine made a move early in the third quarter to take a 32-31 lead on two free throws from senior guard Mackenzie Martinez, but Saginaw Valley State swung the game in its favor for good by responding with a 14-1 run. The Knights got within seven in the fourth quarter after consecutive 3-pointers from Merriweather and junior guard Destony Curry, but the latter came with 49 seconds left.
Emily Wendling and Danielle Carriere had 15 points apiece and Halee Nieman chipped in 10 for the Cardinals.
The majority of Bellarmine's team will be returning next year. Martinez, Nicole Bryant and Mariah Gador are the departing seniors.
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