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Another first

CRAWFORD | Bellarmine runs past FGCU 74-60 for first-ever ASUN Conference victory

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C.J. Fleming

C.J. Fleming led Bellarmine with 19 points in its first ASUN victory in program history, a 74-60 win at Florida Gulf Coast.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Bellarmine basketball coach Scott Davenport woke up on a sunny, clear, 60-degree Friday morning in Fort Meyers, Florida, ran 6 miles and came back to the hotel room thinking that it beats bussing to some of the program's old Division II destinations like Kenosha, Wisconsin, or Kirksville, Missouri. 

Later that night, his team made itself comfortable, too, running all over Florida Gulf Coast University for a 74-60 victory, the program’s first ASUN win in its first ASUN road game.

ESPN’s metrics gave the home team an 82% probability of victory. But it hadn’t been around Bellarmine’s players all week as they stewed over a couple of close losses to Lipscomb to open league play last weekend. The Knights left little to doubt on Friday despite subpar shooting.

They opened a 10-point lead before the first media timeout and were up 20 at the last one of the half. FGCU, coming off a substantial COVID-19 layoff, took some time to get going. Still, they fell behind by 27 in the second half before getting themselves going offensively and forcing some Bellarmine turnovers to pull back within 10 late.

It didn’t matter. Bellarmine went 8 for 8 from the line in the final minutes and 18 of 21 for the game to put it away.

"To feel their emotion, how bad they wanted it," Davenport said. "Like I’ve said many times, caring is a very special talent. Their preparation Monday through Thursday was incredible, and they translated it to competition. The scout, from (assistant) Beau Braden, was incredible. And the execution, especially the first 30 minutes of the game, was great. This was a team that owns a road win over an ACC opponent. They’ve had some adversity with COVID, like everyone has. ... I’m incredibly proud of the way they represent this basketball program, our university, and frankly the whole city, because there were people from Louisville all over this place tonight. Alums from Iroquois, parents of kids I coached at Ballard. These kids did something that will never be taken away.”

It wasn’t a sharp-shooting game for the Knights, who came into the game tied for No. 6 in the nation at 41% from beyond the arc. They made just 6 of 26 from 3-point range Friday and didn’t have their usual precision from around the basket, either. But they did turn in a cohesive effort on defense and claimed a 42-32 rebounding edge.

"We had good shots," Davenport said. "Great shots. But what’s encouraging is that you’re coaching smart kids who know. I mean, they’re happy. They’re excited. But they know they missed some great looks."

Nor was it without a little bit of drama late, as Bellarmine saw 17 points shaved off its lead, mainly due to turnovers and a few missed shots. Davenport wasn’t happy down the stretch, but he was thrilled with the result.

"Boy I got after them," he said. "And I’m never going to apologize for getting after them. ... We’re going to win more, but their the first one to win a conference game. And I’m proud of them, and every coach says this, but they’re great young men. And I’m going to challenge them to keep getting better. We had such a great week of practice. I worried they may come really questioning themselves. Boy, they came even more determined, and practice was great."

The Knights were led by C.J. Fleming with 19 points, Ethan Claycomb with 15 and Dylan Penn with 12. Pedro Bradshaw led the effort on the boards with 8 on a night when he struggled to 1-of-8 shooting from the field.

Bellarmine will face FGCU again at 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on ESPN 680 AM in Louisville.

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