By ANDY WOLF
LOUISVILLE, KY — Second-ranked Bellarmine threw two runs at the No. 25 University of Findlay in Tuesday’s NCAA Division II Sweet 16 matchup — one in each half.
The Oilers matched the first to trail 41-39 at halftime.
The Knights opened the second half on a 14-4 run to reignite their home crowd at Knights Hall.
Bellarmine led by double digits the rest of the way in topping UF 84-68 in the Midwest regional men’s basketball finals in Louisville, Kentucky.
“For us, there’s no shame in us losing to them on their home floor,” UF coach Charlie Ernst said. “They’re very well coached. They’ve been here before. For us, we have overcome so much with this team this year and for us to be here tonight in this game against a team like them is something maybe three months ago, mid-January, we didn’t think would happen.”
The Oilers finished their season at 25-7 overall — winning their most games under Ernst and since the 2008-09 national title team (36-0).
Bellarmine (31-3) captured its fourth regional title in the last seven years — each at home.
Their Elite Eight opponent in Sioux Falls, SD, is yet to be determined as the NCAA reseeds all eight regional winners.
“That’s a great team that we just played,” Ernst said of Bellarmine. “They’re very well coached, extremely unselfish. (Bellarmine’s) Al Davis, I thought he was the difference.
“He’s a little engine for them but on top of his engine and his motor, he made shots, especially in the first half when we started out so well.”
Davis, a 5-foot-9 senior guard, finished with 21 points, four 3-pointers and two steals. Rusty Troutman (6-8) led all scorers with 26 points and was 9 of 10 at the foul line. Seven different BU players had multiple assists.
Taren Sullivan guided UF with 22 points and eight rebounds.
Sullivan and Martyce Kimbrough each had 12 points in the first half as the Oilers closed the final 7:23 on a 13-5 run.
Tyler Stern-Tucker scored from the left block to tie it at 41-41 on the first possession of the second half.
Adam Eberhard, who had been scoreless in the first half, scored in the paint and Al Davis drove for another to put Bellarmine up 46-41.
After Stern-Tucker knocked down a jumper, the Knights scored the next nine points.
Eberhard assisted an open George Knott under the bucket before knocking down a 3-ball of his own.
Two straight UF turnovers led directly to fast break lay-ins from Tyler Jenkins.
In a flash, Bellarmine had opened the game to double figures at 55-43.
Having come down from 10 points with 3 minutes left at Ohio Dominican to win 82-79, the Oilers knew it wasn’t over.
Yet shots stopped falling — even the open ones.
Findlay missed its first eight 3-pointers of the second half after shooting 8 of 19 in the first half.
The Oilers started the second half 5 of 22 from the floor and only scored as many as five straight at a time.
That occurred on a three and a jumper from Taren Sullivan to pull within 68-57 with 5:42 to go.
They never came any closer.
“Bellarmine is a very energetic defensive team,” Ernst said. “When you’re going off the dribble they attack it. We knew that.
“We liked our matchups. In the first half we found our shooters and we were knocking them down (8 of 19 from three). They changed their defensive philosophy.”
Ernst said Bellarmine switched off every UF ball screen, something he’d seen them do very few times in the countless hours of tape he’s watched.
Kimbrough went scoreless (0 for 7) in the second half to finish with 12 points.
Fellow marksman Elijah Kahlig went 2 of 9 from 3-point range, though Bellarmine focused most to not let Kimbrough get going.
“Never and he’s an All-American player,” Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said of Kimbrough. “We’ve seen what he’s done in this tournament. Our mentality with him: the attempt was going to be good. If he gets it off, he’s going to make it.”
Trey Smith played 25 minutes off the bench and supplied 11 points, his third career game in double figures.
Starting point guard Ricardo Smith picked up his 3rd foul with 18:53 to go after only playing eight minutes in the first half.
The Oilers lose just two seniors, Ricardo Smith and Stern-Tucker, but gain back two starters in point guard Austin Gardner and forward Alex White who both went down season-ending knee injuries within five games of each other.
“I’d love to talk about those guys,” Ernst said. “Just like many seniors before them, they’ve spent all four years here. They’re a chip off the old block because neither one of them had immediate success in our program.
“Their role for most of their careers have been off the bench and they handled it like champions. Those guys not only stuck around but were such key pieces to our team all year long.”
Sullivan 9-13 0-0 22, Stern-Tucker 2-7 4-4 8, R. Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Kimbrough 5-18 0-1 12, Kahlig 3-12 2-2 10, Singleton 0-2 1-2 1, George 1-1 0-0 2, Ashley 0-0 0-0 0, T. Smith 4-8 1-2 11, Overhiser 0-0 0-0 0, Garverick 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 24-61 8-11 — 66.
Knott 2-4 1-2 5, Eberhard 2-3 4-4 9, Davis 7-13 3-4 21, Ru. Troutman 7-11 9-10 26, Jenkins 3-8 0-0 7, Weyer 1-4 0-0 3, Cook 0-0 2-3 2, Ramser 0-0 0-0 0, Bach 1-3 0-0 3, Coles 3-4 0-0 8. TOTALS: 26-50 19-23 — 84.
3-POINT GOALS: Findlay 10-31 (Sullivan 4-5, Stern-Tucker 0-3, Kimbrough 2-10, Kahlig 2-9, T. Smith 2-4); Bellarmine 13-29 (Eberhard 1-1, Davis 4-9, Ru. Troutman 3-6, Jenkins 1-3, Weyer 1-4, Bach 1-3, Coles 2-3).
REBOUNDS: Findlay 29 (Sullivan 8); Bellarmine 35 (Eberhard 9).
ASSISTS: Findlay 10 (Sullivan & Stern-Tucker 3); Bellarmine 20 (Eberhard 4).
STEALS: Findlay 1, Bellarmine 5.
BLOCKS: Findlay 1, Bellarmine 2.
TURNOVERS: Findlay 9, Bellarmine 10.
TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 18, Bellarmine 14.
FOULED OUT: (Fin) R. Smith.
HALFTIME: Bellarmine, 41-39.