(Courtesy: Bellarmine Athletics) BIG RAPIDS, Mich.-The No. 4 Bellarmine Knights overcame a slow start with an impressive second half defensive effort to turn back Truman State 82-65 in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Championship's Midwest Region being hosted by Ferris State University in Wink Arena.
The seventh-seeded Bulldogs, who the Knights faced just six days ago in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship, came out with a purpose and opened up an 11-2 advantage to put the Knights on their heels a bit.
However, the setback was just momentary as Bellarmine, the Midwest Region's No. 2 seed, battled back. Eventually the Knights grabbed a brief two-point lead, but Truman held a 37-35 advantage at the intermission.
The tide turned in Bellarmine's favor early in the second period when Parker Chitty came off the bench and connected on a 3-pointer then made three quick steals to spur a 10-0 that turned a 41-36 deficit into a 46-41 advantage. Bellarmine never trailed again, leading by as many as 19 points.
"The first four minutes (of the second half) we tried to come out and play...like our hair was on fire," said sophomore Alex Cook. "Parker Chitty lit it up. He had three steals back to back to back and that just changed the whole game."
In addition to Chitty's and the rest of the team's defense, the Knights got 20 second half points from senior Brent Bach as the 6-1 guard finished with a game-high 26.
In his postgame comments, Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport had high praise for both his team and his opponent. "(Truman) is a really good basketball team," he said. "They're well-coached; they're solid. They're a team that you have to beat because they just don't beat themselves. I was incredibly proud of our guys. I thought our defense in the second half picked up, but it was such a team win because our team...the last 25 minutes of the game...it became just all about team, about getting stops together then attacking together offensively."
The Knights' defensive turnaround is illustrated in the statistics. In the opening 20 minutes, the Bulldogs made 47 percent of their shots and went five of 13 thirteen from beyond the arc. In the second half, Truman State was limited to 35 percent shooting and went just two of 11 from deep. Nine of TSU's 14 turnovers also came in the second half.
Meanwhile, the stats also show how the Bellarmine defense fueled its offense as the Knights shot 53.3 percent in the second period. Bellarmine also took care of the ball much better after halftime, turning the ball over just four times.
In addition to Bach and Chitty, who finished with 11 points, the Knights got solid contributions up and down the roster. Cook collected 14 points and six rebounds while Ben Weyer added 10 points. Junior Adam Eberhard grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out four assists to lead the Knights in those categories while Daniel Ramser played 22 minutes of hard-nosed basketball especially on the defensive end where he had an impressive blocked shot and helped contain the high-octane Truman defense.
The Knights, who improved to 29-2, advance to play the No. 3-seed, Findlay, in the semifinals. Similar to the Knights, the higher-seeded Oilers faced a halftime deficit but roared back in the second half to post an 84-65 victory over sixth-seeded Drury. Tomorrow's game is scheduled to tip at 5 p.m.