Springfield, Mass. Home of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Springfield, Mass. Where James Naismith, looking for a new form of indoor exercise, hung a couple peach baskets on the overhang at each end of a gymnasium floor, inventing a game that became our passion.
Springfield, Mass. Where tomorrow this feisty band of guys from that private school over at the corner of Norris Place and Douglass Boulevard will compete for a national basketball championship.
Scott Davenport’s inexorable Bellarmine Knights tip it off at 1:00 on Saturday against surprising BYU-Hawaii, upset winners over previously undefeated West Liberty.
The winner shall wear the NCAA Division II crown.
* * * * *
The Knights semi-final W looked mighty familiar.
Close game against a taller, quicker team — Minnesota State Mankato– that was battering them on the boards. (Final tally: MSM 39, BU 23.) Tie game at the half that quickly fell in MSM’s favor after the break.
But, as is this team’s wont, Bellarmine stayed the course. Impeccable offensive precision. Alert defense. Heads never bowed.
Finally, with 6:01 to play, the Knights inexorably — Yes, I use that descriptor again — snatched the advantage once and for all on a Jeremy Kendle three.
When the slower, shorter Knights needed to clamp down, they did. Chris Dowe and Justin Benedetti made steals. Dowe made free throws.
Like so many Bellarmine foes this season, the Mavericks cracked at crunch time. It is not a coincidence.
Some stats matter not a bit. MSM beat BU 15-5 on the offensive glass.
Some tell a mighty tale. Bellarmine had but one meaningless turnover in the second half. It came in the waning seconds, after the game was secure, locked in a vault.
What does matter is how BU plays. With grit and 40 minute focus. Longer if necessary. At 6:45 of the first half, Jeremy Kendle ran down a MSM miscue, an over and back. Instead of just getting possession, the Knights tallied 2.
Because of that type of passionate, intelligent play, Bellarmine shall be competing during the last forty minutes of the season with a national title going to the winner.
* * * * *
Undefeated West Liberty was the pre-tourney favorite.
They’ll be watching the final back home in Almost Heaven West Virginia.
Their helter skelter style met its match in BYU-H.
The winners got 13 big boards from man mountain, Marques Whippy. And 43 points from Tsung-Hsien Chang, who was 14/17 from the field, 7/9 from beyond the arc and 8/9 from the line.
These Aloha Mormons are tough. Though it’s the only game I’ve seen West Liberty play, I’m inclined to say they were somewhat of a fraud. Then again, they ended the season, 33-1.
But they played no half court defense. And jacked up 43 threes.
Like I said, they and their 100+ ppg average will be watching the finals on the telly.
– Seedy K