LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Bellarmine basketball team had little trouble dispatching Colorado School of Mines in the national quarterfinals Wednesday, but it was in its Final Four game against top-seed Fairmont State that the Knights found themselves in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.

Bellarmine responded to a 23-point deficit late in the first half exactly the way you thought a Scott Davenport-coached team would respond. It gathered itself and calmly cut the deficit to single-digits midway through the second half.

But the Knights always seemed one possession away. There were too many turnovers, too many three-pointers missed, and too many three-pointers made by Fairmont State, as Bellarmine bowed out one game short of its second NCAA Division II title shot, 79-68 in Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Knights finished the season 32-4, and earned their fourth trip to the Final Four in seven years. But more than that, they earned the respect of their head coach.

“That’s as tough a locker room as I’ve ever been in in my long career as a coach,” Davenport told play-by-play man Doug Ormay and color analyst Mark Bugg on his WGTK 970-AM postgame program by LouisvilleCatholicSports.net. “Those players were not just emotionally spent, they kept the end thanking every teammate, every manager, thanking the assistant coaches. And then they go in the press conference and all they do is thank all these people who drove 870-some-odd miles just to be here. It was like a home game. You wouldn’t trade it.”

The halftime stat sheet featured some very un-Bellarmine-like stats. Twelve turnovers, 0-for-8 from three-point range. They’d been outscored 24-0 from beyond the arc. They were down 48-28.

In the locker room, there was no panic. But Davenport had one primary message: “To be us,” he said. “Just be us. And we were. And we still didn’t play great.”

Davenport laid out a schedule for his team. He wanted the lead under 16 by the first TV timeout, under 12 by the second, and under eight by the third. With just under eight minutes to play, Bellarmine trailed just 63-55.

“We were right on schedule,” Davenport said. “We had scheduled it, we had set it. At the under-8, we need to be down eight. I said to the team, if we can get it to five or six, just look at their faces, because we’re going to win the game. And we had a little moment right there where we had a chance, and then they had some huge offensive rebounds, and they hit a three and got a steal.”

And the moment passed. After the game, Davenport was still searching for exactly what happened in the first half.

“We weren’t us,” he said. “Is that coaching? Is that players? Or do you give Fairmont credit? It’s all that. It’s not from lack of effort, lack of trying. I’ll tell you this: I wouldn’t feel one bit different if we were playing Saturday afternoon (in the championship). Not one bit. I wouldn’t.”

Some guys fought through adversity. Adam Eberhard, Bellarmine’s leading scorer on the season, didn’t have a field goal in the game’s first 26 minutes. He still finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, narrowly missing the first triple-double in the Elite Eight since 1986.

Rusty Troutman was hot early, then struggled. He still finished with 15 points in his final Bellarmine game. Senior point guard Al Davis had 11.

Fairmont was led by D’Ondre Stockman, who came off the bench and scored 23. The Falcons outscored Bellarmine 39-12 from three-point range. They shot 46 percent in the game, but when you account for how many of those were three-point baskets, their effective field goal percentage was 57 percent.

Bellarmine did play well after regrouping at halftime. It outscored Fairmont State by nine in the second half. But it never heated up from three-point range, and in the end, turnovers were key. The Knights turned it over 17 times in 66 possessions. Every fourth possession was a turnover. When that happens, the end result usually isn't going to be a happy one.

"It seemed like they speed us up (in the first half), but I think it was more them hitting shots," Davenport said. "They hit some challenged threes. The mistakes we made, we tried to run after our misses to erase our mistakes, and we gave up easy baskets and dunks in transition. That was the problem. It wasn't a lack of effort. We tried as hard as you can humanly try to play a basketball game."

In the end, Davenport just took his hat off to his opponent, his players, his program and his fans.

“There are something like 1,100-1,200 institutions in the NCAA at all divisions,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade places to coach at any of those other institutions, for anything in this world. . . .  If everybody cared the way those 14 players and four managers in that locker room care for other people, our society would be in a lot better shape.”

Bellarmine basketball, of course, remains in great shape. Davenport returns a great deal of talent. He loses Troutman, Smith and George Knott. Troutman has been such a fixture for the program, scoring more than 1,700 career points while losing only three home games in a four-year career.

He’ll be missed. They all will.

I’ve seen it before. You watch seniors leave and think, with Bellarmine, “Well, it’ll never be the same.” And it isn’t quite. But no sooner have Jeremy Kendle and Braydon Hobbs leave than Jake Thelen comes along. The faces change, but the culture remains the same, and the game.

“They become us, we don’t become them,” Davenport always says.

The season is over, but Bellarmine (picks and) rolls on.

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