CRAWFORD | Bellarmine 80, USI 65: Time off meant game on for No. - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Bellarmine 80, USI 65: Time off meant game on for No. 5 Knights

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Bellarmine huddles in the second half of Monday's win over USI. (WDRB photo by Henry Crawford) Bellarmine huddles in the second half of Monday's win over USI. (WDRB photo by Henry Crawford)
Bellarmine center Yasin Kolo is shooting 53 percent from three-point range. (WDRB photo by Henry Crawford) Bellarmine center Yasin Kolo is shooting 53 percent from three-point range. (WDRB photo by Henry Crawford)
Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — When I last saw the Bellarmine University basketball team, it was before the Christmas break, and a 20-day NCAA-mandated hiatus in the Division II basketball schedule.

Coach Scott Davenport was looking forward to the practice time, but understandably had some trepidation over what all that time away from competition would mean.

He needn’t have worried. Since coming back from a three-week layoff, the Knights, ranked No. 5 in Division II, have won seven straight Great Lakes Valley Conference games, by an average of 11.4 points.

Monday night in Knights Hall, they capped a stretch of three games in five days with what probably was their best performance of the season, an 80-65 pounding of No. 15-ranked Southern Indiana.

From the team I saw in early December to the mid-January version I saw Monday, Bellarmine has matured into a much more serious defensive team, and its ball movement is beginning to resemble the constant motion game that Davenport likes to see.

The only stat you really need: The Knights had 12 first-half field goals, and 12 first-half assists. Not once did a guy break out of the offense to do his own thing. They were 9 of 16 from 3-point range in the half and led by 17. It was fun to watch, and stems from a lot of time with no games to play, but a lot of practice put in over their long break.

“I’ve never had as much fun coaching kids in my life, because they wanted to get better,” Davenport said of the break. “We came in here every day. We were going two times, and maybe to a movie, or two times and bowling, or two times and going to visit kids in a hospital. And they wanted to get back here. It was great. They deserve a lot of credit. We got better. We really got better.”

Bellarmine had 25 field goals on 22 assists in the game. They had a season-high 38 deflections. Five players had multiple assists. Six players hit three-pointers. The Knights made 13 of 26 threes and 12 of 23 twos. They were 17 of 20 from the free-throw line.

“You take what the defense gives you,” Davenport said.

Five players reached double figures. George Suggs led the Knights with 17 points and Rusty Troutman had 15. Yasin Kolo went 3-5 from three-point range and finished with 12. Nick Fredrick went 4-4 from the field and finished with a career-high 12. Michael Parrish had 11 points. (Click box score to the left to enlarge.)

Bellarmine led 16-14 midway through the first half, then went on an 18-2 run over the next eight minutes to take control.

“Coach has been on us to move the ball, all week, all season,” Parrish said. “. . . Once we got them chasing the ball, we got really good shots. We’ve been playing really good basketball. The chemistry is there. In the beginning of the season, you’re trying to learn what kind of team you have. Now in this second half, you’re seeing this chemistry start to pay off.”

That’s what the Knights are known for — machine-like offense, precision passing, crisp movement. But Parrish said this team wants to stamp itself in another way.

“We want to be the best team that’s been here on the defensive end,” Parrish said. “We want to hold teams to 40 percent, and keep that up.”

And this is a wrinkle for the Knights. They came into the game leading the GLVC not in scoring offense — but in defense, allowing just 66.7 points per game.

And that defense overwhelmed the league’s top-scoring offense (88.8 points per game) in the first half, piling up 27 deflections and constantly disrupting the Screaming Eagles’ rhythm. Jeril Taylor, a product of Pleasure Ridge Park High School, was the only Eagle in double-figures with 27 points in a return to his hometown.

“We’re moving like crazy, on both ends of the court,” said senior forward George Suggs. “We’re really playing together. Guys don’t stop moving on the offensive end, we’re active on the defensive end. And it bodes well for us when we’re moving like that and passing the ball.”

When you can rank 16th in the nation in scoring defense and in the top 25 in three-point shooting percentage, you’re going to win a lot of games. The Knights were 40.3 percent from the beyond the arc coming into the game. Yasin Kolo, a 6-10 center from Germany who shattered a backboard on his first day of practice at Bellarmine, is at 52.8 percent. Troutman is at 50.8 percent and Suggs at 46 percent.

Bellarmine has taken a two-game lead on the rest of the GLVC. But now they have to get it done on the road. And they aren’t flying thousands of feet above the snow. They’ll travel into the teeth of it this week, facing Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wisc., on Thursday, then Lewis, outside Chicago, on Saturday.

“We’ve built on each game,” Suggs said. “We knew coming in we had three tough games and there wasn’t going to be a letup at any point. Obviously this was an important game to us, a rivalry-type deal, but they’re a good team and we knew what we had on our plate, and I think our numbers in this game reflect our preparation.”

Davenport, after placing some heavy demands on his team early, is watching it begin to demand more of itself in the second half of the season.

“This team is starting to be accountable to each other,” Davenport said. “Accountable to me is one thing. Ultimately, that’s for the wrong reason, because when they leave that huddle I’m not going out on that court. But now they’re taking pride in not letting each other down and playing for each other. And I’m proud of that. And it’s showing. It’s showing in our assists. It’s showing in our deflection totals. It’s all over the board.”

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