LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — They can't say they weren't warned. The Bellarmine University basketball team, ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II, got a couple of talking points from head coach Scott Davenport before Monday night's game against No. 10 Southern Indiana.
USI, he told them, leads the nation in rebound margin, and rebounds nearly half of its own missed shots (47 percent, actually). His team had to prevent the Eagles from doing that, and it had to shoot free throws well. Free-throw inefficiency led to Bellarmine's only loss of the season, at home, last Thursday.
Now let's look at the final stats. USI on Monday outrebounded Bellarmine 54-34 and rebounded 21 of its 41 missed shots. And Bellarmine, coming off back-to-back school-record seasons of free-throw shooting, made only 9 of 18 from the line.
It was an equation for defeat. In spite of those numbers, USI beat Bellarmine only 68-66, and in overtime at that. But the winning basket came, appropriately enough, on a put-back as time expired before a sellout Knights Hall crowd of 2,100 that included University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
Bellarmine fell to 13-2 overall, 5-2 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, and before January has even ended, looks to be a longshot to host an NCAA regional, and has work to do to contend for its own league championship with tough road trips still awaiting.
"You can't get beat 20 rebounds and give up 21 offensive rebounds and expect to win a game against a top 10 team in the country, it's impossible," Davenport said. "You shoot 50 percent from the line, 41 percent from the field. Those factors alone, you can't overcome them."
USI's superb power forward, Aaron Nelson, had 15 points and 19 rebounds to finish with his 15th straight double-double, and he did that despite some first-half foul trouble. Chuck Jones came off the bench to provide a spark in the first half, with 10 points and seven rebounds. He had more offensive rebounds in 11 minutes played (5) than any Bellarmine player had in the entire game.
"They had two guys, Nelson and Jones, in 21 total minutes in the first half, equal what our entire team had in rebounds in 100 minutes," Davenport said. "I've never seen that in my life. They're a great rebounding team. . . . We knew going into the game, they do this every game. This isn't one game. They got 21 of their 41 misses back. . . . Devastating loss with postseason ramifications. We have to go to their place on Senior Night, and they're a senior dominated team. Tough road."
Bellarmine held a small lead for most of the first half but lost it in the final minutes to go in trailing 25-23 at the break.
USI, one of the nation's better defensive teams, clogged the passing lanes, deflected balls and slowed down Bellarmine's motion offense. The Eagles (14-1, 6-1) pounded the offensive glass to push out to a nine-point lead in the second half, but 14 straight points by Bellarmine's Josh Derksen pulled the Knights back into it.
A Vance Hall jumper with 2.5 seconds left tied the game at 59, and when USI threw away its inbounds pass near midcourt, the Knights had the ball with 1.5 seconds left and a chance to tie. But Keisten Jones, who broke open with the ball near the lane, threw up a runner instead of stopping for an open 10-footer, and the Knights couldn't escape.
In overtime, Bellarmine edged out to an early lead, but did not make a field goal in the final 1:19. Still, they tied the score when Jones made one of two free throws with 11 seconds to play, but Lawrence Thomas' missed three-point try with two seconds left was tapped in by Gavin Schumann at the buzzer for the win.
"We weren't even fronting the post, so how are guys getting inside of us?" Davenport said afterward. "You've got to impose your will on someone to rebound the basketball. We didn't do that. They imposed their will on us. . . . They had three offensive rebounds Saturday against Indianapolis. Three. And the free-throw line hurt us. We didn't try to miss them, but we missed them.
"To contend with them, you have to win in the lane, and they dominated the lane."
Five USI players finished in double figures, led by Nelson. Thomas had 14 points, Schumann had 13, Jones had 10 and Orlando Rutledge, a Fern Creek product, added 10 off the bench. Bellarmine got 16 from Derksen and 10 from Jones, who was a 65 percent shooter coming into the game but who made just 4 of 15 shots against USI. On second-chance points, USI outscored Bellarmine 16-6, and held a 36-28 edge on points in the paint.
Bellarmine, which was playing its third game in five days, is back in action at Wisconsin-Parkside Thursday night.