March 23rd, 2012
Montevallo Ends Bellarmine's Reign
Montevallo punishes Bellarmine on the boards for semifinal win
It took an eight minute segment of play to end a two year run of excellence at the top of Division II basketball for Bellarmine University.
In dropping a 79-72 decision to the University of Montevallo in the Division II semifinals, the season-long albatross that loomed over the Knights took root in the form of a 43-28 rebounding deficit. As if that wasn’t enough, the Falcons scored 44 of their points in the paint and scored seemingly at will inside.
The victory was impressive on a number of fronts, particularly with regards to the dominance around the basket and on the boards for Montevallo. To note: after Bellarmine took their biggest lead of the game at 46-39, the Falcons scored a layup on 8 of their next 14 possessions. Two of those possessions ended in free throws and the other four ended in missed layups.
And the defending champions had no answer.
“We lost to an incredibly talented basketball team,” remarked Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport. “A very athletic team, a very well coached team, a very solid team. They were tremendous on the backboards. Going into their game last night, they had taken 1,093 field goal attempts. And they had 547 offensive rebounds. That is exactly half. That is an incredible statistic.”
And while the Falcons were soaring on the boards, Bellarmine suffered through their most prolific scoring drought of the season as they failed to score on 17 straight possessions. They missed 14 shots in that 7:48 stretch, 10 of them from behind the arc, and turned it over three times.
The Knights were down 62-60 with 8:32 remaining. When they made their next basket with just 0:43 left, they were down 73-62. That’s 7:49 of game time without a point.
Senior guard and Division II Player of the Year Braydon Hobbs flatly stated that his team had trouble rebounding from the first day in practice.
“We knew going into the game that they were a heck of a good rebounding team and that’s been our Achilles’ heel all year,” Hobbs admitted. “We’ve lost three games before this and they were all double-digits (deficits) in rebounding. We talked about it (rebounding) Day One on September 5th.”
The first half gave some slight indication that Bellarmine would have trouble on the boards. But the stats were deceiving in that Montevallo held just a 15-13 rebounding edge at the break. The real trouble with the rebounding could be found in the personal fouls category. The Knights had four players, Chris Dowe, Jelani Johnson, Richie Phares and Ryan Burton saddled with two apiece as they were consistently out-quicked, out-maneuvered and beaten on the boards and in the lane.
While Bellarmine looked to control tempo with their movement on offense, Montevallo turned the game into a slugfest sending three, four and even five players to the offensive boards. Nursing a one point lead at the half, Davenport pointed to the Falcons 5-7 shooting from three point range as a key to the game.
“In their losses, they shot 19 percent (from three point range),” he pointed out. “In the first half, they shoot 71 percent. Because of that we had to extend our defense and that allowed them to drive to the rim.”
The Falcons attacked the rim like it was their birthright. Only 6 of their 29 second half shots were taken outside the paint. And that perpetual presence around the basket wore down the Bellarmine big men.
Falcons senior guard D.J. Rivera best exemplified that mentality by connecting on 11 of his 15 attempts. Ten of those eleven made baskets were layups or shots within five feet of the rim. He scored a game high 23 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in the process.
“We made the adjustment that when they switched (on defense), we pulled the guard back out and dropped our big guys to the baseline,” explained Montevallo coach Danny Young. “We would get their big guy on our guard and drove it at him (the defender) and then dump it off to our big guys for layups.”
There was also that matter of defending the nation’s leading field goal shooting team and holding them to nearly 10 percentage points under their season average. The Knights were shooting at a 54.5 percent rate from the field and finished 28-61 (45.9 percent).
“I thought our guys just played their heart out,” said Young. “We switched everything on the perimeter and we did a good job staying up on our guys and not trying to give away open threes.”
Montevallo also had to overcome a partisan Bellarmine crowd. At least 3,500 of the 4,213 in attendance drove the 90 miles to Highland Heights to support the Knights. It was as close to a home court advantage as a team could get.
“That was unbelievable,” Young pointed out. “The crowd was tremendous at times. Our guys couldn’t hear anything, but we just played to our strengths. We wanted to try to get into their bench a little bit and we were able to make that happen.”
Bellarmine played without starting guard Keisten Jones who sustained a knee injury in the first half of the quarterfinal game against Alabama-Huntsville. Senior forward Luke Sprague was still recovering from a shoulder stinger that rendered him a shadow of his top form.
And now the Knights re-group, put the season in perspective and bid farewell to Player of the Year Hobbs, Sprague and reserve Aaron Robison. Hobbs and Sprague combined to start more than 210 games in their careers, a fact not lost on Davenport and his staff.
“The bar is established academically, athletically, socially (by these men),” said Davenport. “Braydon Hobbs is the greatest player in the history of Bellarmine University. He took three shots last night (Wednesday v Alabama-Huntsville) and dominated that game with 16 deflections. He plays for the right reasons. He plays for his teammates. And Luke (who plans to go to medical school), I’ll let him be my doctor any time.”
Hobbs finished his career as Bellarmine’s all-time leader in assists and in three point shots made. In his final game he made 5-13 baskets and was 3-9 from behind the arc for 13 points to go with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Junior guard Chris Dowe led the Knights with 18 points and pulled down 9 boards. Jeremy Kendle scored 16 and had 5 rebounds.
But for the Knights, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. They chased the opportunity to become the first back-to-back Division II champions since 1993-94. They faced the toughest schedule in the nation, overcame injuries to key contributors and played with a target on their backs. In finishing 29-4, the Knights concluded their most successful two year run in school history.