March 18th, 2019

Knights punch ticket to Sweet 16 with 74-59 victory over Findlay

John Spugnardi

Bellarmine University S.I.D.

Knights punch ticket to Sweet 16 with 74-59 victory over Findlay
photo by Bellarmine Athletics

ROMEOVILLE, Ill.—For a while, it looked like the Bellarmine-Findlay game was destined to become another "instant classic," but an 18-3 run in the second half gave the Knights the separation it needed as they pulled out a 74-59 victory and advanced to Tuesday's Midwest Regional Final.

While Bellarmine (28-4) again turned in impressive offensive and defensive numbers, the game was mostly the Adam Eberhard show as the senior forward poured in 30 points to lead all scorers.  The preseason All-American lived up to that billing by hitting 12 of 17 shots and all six of his free throws. The performance was made even sweeter as it came on his 22nd birthday.

The vocal and supportive Bellarmine fans, which comprised the majority of the 472 in attendance at Neil Carey Arena, even helped Eberhard celebrate by serenading him with a rendition of "Happy Birthday," coming out of a timeout toward the end of the game.

Bellarmine Coach Scott Davenport again lauded his team's defensive effort in his postgame comments. "We held a team that shoots 50 percent from the field to 35," he said. "They shoot 39 from three, and we hold them to 29 percent, and they're a plus three on the backboard and we ended up winning that battle."

However, the coach also recognized Eberhard's effort.  "Happy Birthday Adam Eberhard," he said. "I'll tell you, when he was born the basketball world got a little better." Davenport also complimented the rebounding efforts of Ben Weyer and Chivarsky Corbett, who pulled down nine and eight respectively.

While Bellarmine is the region's number two seed and Findlay was the No. 3, the game was a national top 10 matchup as the Knights are ranked No. 7 and the Oilers are eighth in the most recent NABC Division II coaches poll.

The two national powerhouses have a number of classic tussles in the NCAA Tourney, meeting five times in the big dance with Bellarmine now winning three times.  Findlay's two win were tight battles as they pulled out an 89-86 overtime win in 2009 and triumphed 74-73 last season.

In tonight's contest, the Knights led most of the way with Findlay staying close with three-point shooting in the early going, then taking advantage of some Bellarmine miscues.  However, Bellarmine cleaned up the turnovers and clamped down defensively at the perimeter as the Oilers connected on just three of 16 second half 3-point attempts.

Meanwhile, the Knights again posted stellar shooting numbers, hitting 59.5 percent from the field and overcoming a poor first half from beyond the arc to finish 5-for-14 from 3-point land.

The major reason for the 3-point shooting turnaround was sophomore guard CJ Fleming, who didn't attempt a triple in the first half but drained all three he took in the second half. To make matters worse for the Oilers, all three of his makes were at crucial points of the game.  His first came when the Knights were trailing by four; his second came late in the shot clock and gave the Knights a 50-44 lead. His final three may have been the deciding blow, coming at the 4:11 mark to give the Knights a double digit lead (61-50).

Fleming finished with 13 points, all in the second half and was the only Knight besides Eberhard to score in double digits.

Findlay, which finishes its season 28-5, got a big effort from their big man Alex White. The 6-7 forward scored 26 to lead the Oilers.

Tuesday's regional final will be played at 8 p.m. (7 p.m.) with Bellarmine taking on fourth-seeded Southern Indiana.  The Screaming Eagles got a last-second layup from Mateo Rivera to upend top-seeded and host Lewis by the score of 62-61.

Bellarmine and Southern Indiana have met three times already this season with the Knights winning twice including the most recent meeting on March 9.

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