SPRINGFIELD, Ill.-An explosive 16-0 run to start the second half powered the No. 7 Bellarmine Knights to a 67-63 victory over Illinois Springfield in the Great Lakes Valley Conference opener for both teams tonight at the "TRAC" on the campus of UIS.
With the host Prairie Stars (3-3, 0-1 GLVC) packed into a 2-3 zone defensively, the Knights couldn't convert from long range in the opening half, making just four of 14 triples. Meanwhile, Illinois Springfield opened with a hot hand, making six of 12 from long range as they led by as many as eight before settling for a 34-28 halftime advantage.
Coming out of the intermission, the Knights' Al Davis and Tyler Jenkins hit back-to-back triples to erase the Illinois Springfield lead just two minutes into the second half. Rusty Troutman added another three to give the Knights a 37-34 lead at the 16:31 mark.
Bellarmine's run extended to 16-0 (18-0 counting the last two points of the first half) as it took the Prairie Stars over seven and a half minutes to hit the scoring column in the second half, and their first bucket came courtesy of a goaltending call on the Knights' Alex Cook.
Illinois Springfield trimmed the margin to just four at the 1:27 mark, but Bellarmine broke the Prairie Stars pressure on the ensuing possession and Davis found Troutman for a layup to push the margin back to six. The Knights then forced a turnover, and Davis hit a free throw to make it a three-possession game with 1:09 to go.
Eddie Longmeyer, who led the Prairie Stars with 16 points, dropped in an uncontested layup at the end of the game to bring the final margin to four.
Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport said, "It was a great conference win, because you learn and grow (in this environment). This was tough. This is the best league in the country, and it shows every night. It was a road win; we're 1-0 (in the GLVC), so I'm thrilled."
The coach, who is now in his 12th year at Bellarmine, said defense is what keyed the Knights' run because it led to transition baskets. "The run was all off our defense," he said. "We just beat the zone down the court, and that's how our assist totals got up."
Davenport added that he felt the Knights settled for too many shots in the opening 20 minutes. "We had good shots in the first half, but not great shots," he said. "We took 11 threes in the first 10 minutes of the half, and at that pace we're going to shoot over 40 threes."
Davis led a balanced Bellarmine attack with 18 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists with just one turnover. Adam Eberhard posted his second double-double of the year with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Rusty Troutman added 13 points, seven assists, and four rebounds.
Cook also turned in an energetic performance with 11 points and five rebounds with three blocked shots.
Davenport said one of the Knights' most effective players tonight was Jarek Coles, whose contributions came mostly on the defensive side. "Jarek Coles gave us so much," he said. "This is where you have to know basketball (to appreciate his game). You'll look tomorrow and say, 'he didn't have a point; he didn't play very well.' Well, we don't win the game without Jarek Coles." Davenport credited Coles for slowing down Illinois Springfield's Vince Walker, who opened with six points in the game's first 46 seconds but tallied just six more in the game's final 39 minutes.
Walker's cooling-off mirrored the rest of his team. After hitting six of 12 treys in the first half, the Prairie Stars were just one of 11 from long range in the second half. Illinois Springfield finished the night hitting just 39.3 percent of its shots after making 13 of 25 in the game's first 16 and a half minutes.
Conversely, the Knights opened with just 37.9 percent shooting in the first half, but made 13 of 26 in second half to finish the game at 43.6 percent.
Bellarmine improves to 5-1 overall and 1-0 in the conference and now will face McKendree on Saturday afternoon in Lebanon, Illinois. Tip is scheduled for 4 p.m. (EST).
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