LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Duke/UCLA/Kentucky heavy hitter segment of the schedule is over for the Bellarmine University men’s basketball team. It’s ASUN competition only for the Knights over the next 18 regular-season games.
And in the ASUN, that means you must go through Liberty University, the consensus pick to win the conference title.
I wondered if Liberty was aware that Bellarmine beat Louisville, made Clemson sweat and came within 17 points of Duke and 19 of Kentucky?
"My grandfather is a big basketball guy," said Liberty forward Kyle Rode, a product of Lexington Christian Academy. "He probably watches more ASUN than I do.
"He's telling me that Bellarmine is playing UCLA and these other teams and that they beat Louisville."
The Knights will have to find another route to the top. The Flames came into Freedom Hall Thursday night and defeated Scott Davenport’s team, 70-53. It was the third straight loss for the Knights, who dropped to 5-9.
The Knights were loose with the basketball, committing 13 turnovers while forcing only five. Peter Suder had 12 points, Garrett Tipton 16 and Ben Johnson 14. The rest of Davenport's team shot 4 for 15 and contributed only 11 points.
"It's the most challenging stretch I've ever coached with four major surgeries in 12 days," Davenport said. "But they were better than us today. Our level of respect for them is amazing."
A poor shooting night by the Knights combined with 24 points by Liberty guard Darius McGhee and 22 by Rode was more than Bellarmine could overcome.
McGhee is the nation’s top 3-point shooter -- and he proved it against Bellarmine, making 8 of 15 shots from distance. The eight threes equaled the Bellarmine team total.
Two came at the buzzer. One was left-handed. One was so high it needed FAA clearance to land. Another was so clean that Louisville football coach Jeff Brohm advised Davenport to ask the officials if the ball actually snapped through the rim. Brohm and his family were sitting in the front row behind the Knights' bench.
"I don't know if there is a mathematical nerd in the world that can figure out how many shots have been attempted against teams that I've coached," Davenport said.
"And I've never had a guy make one from 40 feet opposite handed with two guys on him."
All of them were with a release as quick as anything you will see in high major basketball.
The eight threes bumped McGhee’s season total to 70. He opened the night 8 ahead of Detroit guard Antoine Davis for the most three-pointers in Division I.
It was the second time this season that McGhee, who is only 5 feet, 9 inches tall, has thrown one in from deep left-handed. The first one made ESPN Sports Center.
Will this one?
"It's up to the media," McGhee said.
His coach, Ritchie McKay, voted yes.
"Darius has been working on his 3-point, left-hand fadeaway," McKay said.
Last season Bellarmine defeated the Flames, 53-50, on March 5 in the semifinals of the ASUN Tournament, which the Knights won.
McGhee delivered the message there would be no upset this time early in the second half by stroking three in the first four minutes as Liberty shot to a 46-27 lead.
A three-pointer by Bellarmine’s Ben Johnson made it 49-40 but the Flames never allowed the Knights closer than 9 the rest of the way.
Bellarmine struggled on offense in the first half. The Knights missed their first six field goal attempts and finished with only 24 points in the first half, making only 4 of 13 shots from distance.
At this point, Davenport said his team needs to get healthy. The Knights have dealt with multiple surgeries, regular trips to the ice tub and limited practice time for several players.
"I'm not into excuses," Davenport said. "Got to be better. We'll be in there at noon (Friday) and we'll get better because we have willing learners."
The Knights visit North Alabama Monday night for their first ASUN road game. North Alabama upset Ole Miss last week and also defeated Morehead State.
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