LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Yes, Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport began his news conference after his Knights upset Louisville 67-66 last night at the stroke of midnight. No, that’s not a reference to his team being Cinderella – though while we’re on the subject, it would greatly appreciate being eligible for the Big Dance.
Bellarmine’s historic night – its first win over Louisville after 20 losses – began with the words of 7-year-old Seth Walsh, a 3-time cancer survivor from Mount Washington whom Davenport “signed” to the program during a basketball camp ceremony over the summer. Coaches ask random players for a message before games, and on this night, they asked Seth for his. He echoed one of the players: “Let it rip.”
And Bellarmine did. After falling behind early, they went on a 27-5 run that essentially gave them control of the game. They didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary. Just did the things they normally do – spaced the floor, passed the ball, cut hard, made shots.
At halftime, Davenport went to the white board and wrote two sets of numbers: 16-6 and 20-5. The first was how much Bellarmine had outscored the much bigger Louisville team in the paint. The second was how much it had outscored Louisville off the bench.
“Take out the X and O stuff,” associate head coach Doug Davenport said. “Let’s just talk about our mentality. Nothing has changed. Our best chance of winning the next war (4-minute segment) is to be the hardest-playing team and doing what we’re taught to do. That’s it.”
Scott Davenport told players: “Let me give you a prescription. We’re shooting 59 percent. They’re shooting 38. They have four more shots than us. If we get more shots than them, what answer do they have? . . . We have to get on the backboard.”
Louisville, it turned out, did have an answer. In a locker room on the other side of the KFC Yum! Center, the Cardinals were figuring a few things out. They started to get to the rim more. They extended defensive pressure. They closed the margin.
But Louisville never pulled even, and despite some golden opportunities in the closing seconds, could not get open looks to go down.
After the game, Davenport felt his team had earned the victory, but also knew it was fortunate.
“Our inexperienced showed some late,” told me.
The players filed into the locker room and celebrated with each other, then with Walsh. Juston Betz, team captain, got things quiet and asked Walsh what he had to say.
“It was really good to be here,” Walsh told them. And the cheering started again. Davenport had players sit down to say a few words, but when Garrett Tipton – who led the Knights with 21 points, and Bash Wieland came back from some postgame interviews, they cut loose one more time.
“I just sat back in the corner,” Davenport said. “This was about them.”
The win probably won’t translate into more fans or money or anything tangible for Bellarmine. But it was an important step in becoming a Division I player in college basketball’s hottest market.
That Bellarmine came in fully expecting to win the game tells you all you need to know about their team, and probably something about the state of Louisville’s program, as well.
Davenport is still ticked off about the NCAA not amending its rules to allow his program to gain access to the NCAA Tournament. A vote has been postponed at least twice in the past year by an organization that is changing and amending rules at unprecedented pace to keep up with Name, Image and Likeness demands, but insists on running out the clock on a handful of small, reclassifying programs who are trying to exist under nearly impossible conditions in college basketball standards.
No NCAA Tournament? Try recruiting with that. All other things being equal, Bellarmine is doing extraordinarily well.
But all other things are not equal. Yes, Louisville is down. But Davenport just lost his best player to the transfer portal because he wanted a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Two others were limited by injury last night.
Against Louisville, he faced a coach whose salary is more than his entire basketball budget.
But with one hand tied behind its back Bellarmine keeps pushing forward. Davenport keeps lobbying.
“Nobody wants to hear this NCAA stuff,” he said. But he also knows that if he’s going to ask his players never to give up during games, he shouldn’t give up lobbying on their behalf.
“That game will make us better,” Davenport said. “We can't simulate going to the rim and having make that next pass. When we did we were successful. I don't have anybody who can block a shot like that in practice. And when I look at the big picture, that's a gain. That's a plus, yes. But I also want to be very transparent about something else that you're sick of hearing. You don't think they're special? Go recruit guys with a four-year NCAA ban. They came here for the right reasons, that they came for the right reasons. It's amazing. For a ridiculous non-explained-to-anybody ban, and they chose to come for each other. That is incredible. I know how the last segment went, I get it. But there's so many teachable moments and we'll learn. But the bigger picture is how bad they want to be here. They deserve credit in this day where kids are going to three and four schools. The kid from Manhattan is going to go to two schools in one school year. And they wanted to come here. I know I sound like a bragging father. . . . But when everybody wants the same thing and is willing to do whatever it takes, that's very, very powerful. And they make sacrifices.”
I didn’t have access to the Louisville locker room. I can’t tell their story with as much depth.
But I can tell you they played some of their best basketball of the brand-new season on Wednesday night, particularly the game’s first 5 minutes and last 5 minutes. They got the ball inside, drove to contact or to the rim, pressured on defense.
Freshman Mike James said it was desperation. Whatever it was, Louisville needs more of it, and James knows that.
“We became like more desperate,” he said. “We knew we had to make a run at all costs. . . . That’s what KP was telling us. That we have to be more desperate, like our lives depended on it. If we play like that all the way through, from the tip, I think we’ll be a very good defensive team and see different outcomes.”
For its part, Bellarmine was ready to get back to work.
“I’ve got practice at 11 a.m.,” Davenport said. “Can we just stay here? Why don’t we just practice now?”
I think he was only half joking.
His team, though, deserves respect, for a lot of reasons. And it won a measure of that last night. Its players don’t live in a fancy basketball dorm or play in the newest arena. But having been around them, they are grateful for what they do have, including the chance to play in games like the one last night.
And who knows? Maybe a few fans who watched them downtown might wander back out to old Freedom Hall now and then, to check in on Louisville’s other home team.
Copyright 2022 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.