Bellarmine tops Mavericks in D-II semis

Published 9:05 am Friday, March 25, 2011

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Chris Dowe scored 21 points and Bellarmine University beat Minnesota State-Mankato 81-74 on Thursday night to earn its first berth in the NCAA Division II championship game.

Bellarmine will play BYU-Hawaii for the national title on Saturday. The Seasiders (22-8) upset the tournament’s top seed, West Liberty, 110-101 in the other semifinal.

Jeremy Kendle scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half and Justin Benedetti had 16 for the Knights (32-2), who shot 52 percent from both 3-point range and overall.

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“We made 12 of 23 from 3-point range,” said Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport. “You saw that game. That’s not a seven-point game. That’s how well you have to play.”

Cameron Hodges and Jefferson Mason each had 24 points to lead Minnesota State (28-5).

Bellarmine, a school of about 3,100 students in Louisville, Ky., has made 12 appearances in the NCAA tournament, but had never before made it past the regional finals.

“Louisville has just grabbed these guys,” said Davenport, who served for nine seasons as an assistant at the University of Louisville. “I keep trying to tell them what’s going on in Louisville, and I don’t know if they are grasping it. I am.”

Kendle, who averages over 17 points, had just two at halftime when the game was tied at 38, but scored Bellarmine’s first seven after the break.

“My mindset was just to continue to play defense hard and rebound the ball,” Kendle said. “In return, they got me the ball in the second half and I was able to score some points in the second half.”

The game had nine ties and 13 lead changes.

The Knights trailed by as many as six points until Benedetti hit a layup on a backdoor cut and hit a foul shot with just under 8 minutes to play to put Bellarmine up 63-62.

Mason’s layup put MSU back in front, before a 3-pointer from Braydon Hobbs sparked a 9-3 Bellarmine run that stretched the Knights’ lead to 72-67 with 2:37 left. The Mavericks had no more runs left.

“It seemed like they just kept knocking down the biggest shots of the game,” Hodges said. “Whatever they put up was going in. We just couldn’t get a stop when we needed it.”

This was the seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance for Minnesota State and the ninth in program history.