Dylan Penn

Bellarmine's Dylan Penn had a game-high 27 points against Central Michigan.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It was a road trip for the ages for the Bellarmine basketball team. Five years ago, about this time, Bellarmine had a four-game road swing to Cincinnati, then Indiana and Louisville teams that were nationally ranked, and a Saginaw Valley State team ranked No. 4 in NCAA Division II.

It was pretty tough.

What Bellarmine has been through to open this season makes that look like child's play. The Knights have been to a Purdue team now ranked No. 3, and to top-ranked Gonzaga. They have faced No. 2 UCLA and thrown in losses to Saint Mary's and Murray State for good measure. Those five teams were 23-1 entering Tuesday's games. Sagarin ranks Bellarmine's No. 2 in the nation. His algorithm must be on drugs.

On top of that, the Knights are sick. They came into Tuesday's game against Central Michigan down two starters. Head coach Scott Davenport was under the weather.

But none of that mattered to a Bellarmine team whose time had come. The Knights got 27 points from Dylan Penn and ended their season-opening road gauntlet with their first win of the season, 76-69 in Las Vegas' T-Mobile Arena in the Empire Classic.

The Knights jumped to an 8-0 lead, and were up 39-32 at the break, playing without starters Nick Thelan and Ethan Claycomb.

"It was far from perfect. There were plenty of mistakes. I don't have a box score and I really don't care," Bellarmine assistant coach Doug Davenport, sitting in for his father, said in a postgame radio interview with Doug Ormay and Mark Bugg. "Both last night and tonight, our collective attitude, the competitive spirit of the team – A plus."

Zac Jennings hadn't played in a game all year. He had no idea, during the morning walk-through, that Tuesday's game would be any different. Then he winds up playing three minutes and drawing two key offensive fouls. Sam DeVault filled in with 18 minutes off the bench and contributed a season-high 14 points. CJ Fleming had 16 points.

"I thought Sam gave us an awesome lift on the bench," Davenport said. "Alec (Phriem) found out at about 3 he was starting. Zac Jennings has no idea he's going to play this morning. One of the thing we've talked to guys about the last couple of days, is that what the five guys do on the court is a reflection of everybody in the program. The effort, the energy, the enthusiasm for our bench. I know it's corny, but we believe it takes everybody. . . . And Dylan was unbelievable."

Bellarmine outrebounded a bigger Central Michigan team 32-28 and outscored them in the paint 36-20.

"Now we can say this -- we're exhausted," Davenport said. "It has been a long haul. Saint Mary's was an unbelievable challenge for us. It was the first time we felt like ourselves this year. Gonzaga was overwhelming. Last night against UCLA, we were far from perfect. But the attitude and competitiveness were great. If we can keep moving forward, we're going to be where we want to be."

Now where Bellarmine wants to be is back home. The Knights will be on a plane Wednesday morning, and the players will get two days off to return to their families for Thanksgiving.

They open their regular-season home schedule on Sunday at 3 p.m. against Franklin College in Freedom Hall.

"We're really excited," Davenport said. "I hope we see a lot of people on Sunday."

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