CRAWFORD | Gritty Chitty, bang, bang: Bellarmine beats Truman State in NCAA opener
Bellarmine blitzed Truman State with defense to beat the Bulldogs for the third time in three weeks, opening NCAA Tournament play with an 82-65 victory.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – They don’t play three-game series in college basketball, but it sure feels like Bellarmine and Truman State just finished one.
Six days after the teams played for the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament title, and two weeks after they met in a regular-season game in Missouri, Bellarmine and Truman State hooked up again in the first round of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional in Big Rapids, Mich., on Saturday.
Truman State and coach Chris Foster had a week to prepare for this game, and stormed out to an 11-2 lead. But Bellarmine got a defensive spark from sophomore Parker Chitty, who was a deflection machine in his 22 minutes. He was officially credited with two steals and forced several more turnovers as the Knights tightened the defensive screws in the second half to pull away for an 82-65 victory before a crowd of 700.
Bellarmine handed Truman State (20-11) 27 percent of its losses this season. It’s a quirk of Division II that even though you butt heads with the same teams all season (three of its last six games have been against the Bulldogs), you have to do it again come NCAA Tournament time, because the NCAA wants a truly regional event that does not move teams from their designated geographic areas.
As a result, Bellarmine not only had to defeat a familiar foe, but a psychological opponent.
“You’re just defeating human nature,” Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said. “The temptation to think, ‘I know this guy. I don’t have to pay as hard attention to this scouting report or this personnel information or this underneath out-of-bounds play. . . . But they’re just a really good basketball team. We’re very aware of that. They’re very well-coached. We’ve got as much respect for them as anybody we’ve played all year.”
Chitty, who helped kick Bellarmine into defensive gear on Saturday, transferred in from Eastern Kentucky. He played high school basketball at Columbus (Ind.) East, though he grew up in Evansville, Ind., and was friends with Bellarmine All-American Adam Eberhard.
“Parker came in and picked us all up,” said senior Jarek Coles, who was the GLVC Defensive Player of the Year.
His key sequence came early in the second half with Bellarmine trailing 41-36. He buried a three, then deflected a pass that Alex Cook stole. He hit Brent Bach for a three-pointer. Chitty then got steals on each of the next two possessions. The first led to a layup by Bach, the next to a layup by Ben Weyer, and Bellarmine went from down five to up five in less than a minute and a half.
The Knights would never trail again, extending their lead to 19 on a Chitty three with just over three minutes to play.
“Those first four minutes (of the second half) we tried to come out with our hair on fire,” Cook said. “Parker had three straight steals back-to-back-to-back and that just changed the whole game. In the first half he did it too.”
This Bellarmine team is more than just its offense – and it does rank second nationally in field goal percentage at 53 percent. The Knights also rank second-nationally in scoring defense, giving up just 61.5 points per game.
They shot 11 of 24 from three-point range Saturday while holding Truman State to 35 percent shooting and scoring 23 points off turnovers.
Bach led Bellarmine with 26 points – 20 in the second half. Cook had 14 and Weyer 10, with Chitty contributing 11 off the bench. Adam Eberhard had 10 rebounds to go with his eight points. Bellarmine improved to 29-2, and Davenport improved to 24-8 in NCAA Tournament play.
“Our defense in the second half obviously picked us up,” Davenport said. “But it was such a team win, because our team, the last 25 minutes of the game, it became about just team, getting stops together and then attacking together offensively. And that’s how we play the game.”
Now they’ll face a rematch of last season’s regional final, facing Findlay at 5 p.m. Sunday.
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