A 12 point advantage from the free throw line turned out to be the difference as the Bellarmine Knights came away with a 70-64 victory over the Midwestern State Mustangs at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. The NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Elite Eight loss ends MSU’s bid for a national championship.
Bellarmine took 21 shots from the charity stripe amidst what might be considered unique officiating, included the wrong Knights player being sent to the free throw line at one point. The Knights hit 15 of those shots, compared to a 3-of-8 performance from Midwestern.
The dozen free points were twice as many as Bellarmine needed as they completed a second half surge to take the win.
The Mustangs controlled the game early, opening with a Charlie Logan dunk with an assist from brother Keonte’ Logan 20 seconds into the game. That sparked a 7-0 run by Midwestern prompting Bellarmine to take a timeout less than a minute and a half into the game.
Buckets by Luke Sprague and Nick Holmes followed by a three pointer from Justin Benedetti helped the Knights climb back into the game. The Mustangs answered with three pointers from Chris Hagan and Michael Loyd to maintain a 17-11 lead at the 13:00 mark of the first.
A free throw by Jeremy Kendle at the 12:29 mark was quickly followed by a Holmes layup to spark an 8-2 run by the Knights to tie the score 19-19. A Sprague jumper with 9:59 left in the half gave Bellarmine their first lead of the game.
The score would be tied two more times before a Michael Loyd three pointer with 4:55 left in the half gave MSU a 28-25 lead, the last lead change of the half.
The Knights closed the half with a quick 6-0 run sending the teams to the dressing room with MSU leading 37-35.
Bellarmine would tie the game twice in the first four minutes of the second half, but Midwestern would come back each time to build small leads. The Knights finally took their first second half lead on a Chris Dowe three pointer with 12:45 left, giving BU a 52-50 advantage.
MSU would battle back to tie the game 54-54 on a Charlie Logan layup with 10:02 remaining, then built a four point lead on layups by Michael Loyd and Chris Hagan with 6:36 left to play.
Bellarmine pulled to within one on free throws by Benedetti, then went ahead 59-58 on a Holmes dunk to mark what would be the last lead change of the game with 4:46 left on the clock.
Holmes dunk began a 7-0 run by the Knights when it counted the most. A Kendle layup capped the run, giving BU a 64-58 lead with one minute left.
A valient effort to comeback by MSU fell short, with Adrian Van Buren scoring his only two points of the game at the buzzer.
Benedetti led the Knights with 21 points, including a 5-of-6 performance from the free throw line. Kendle led the Knights with eight rebounds, also scoring 20 points in the game. Braydon Hobbs led the team with five assists.
In his final game for Midwestern State, Hagan turned in a game high 24 points with two rebounds and two assists. Also playing his last game, Charlie Logan shared the team lead in rebounds with Thomas, snagging six in the game. Kevin Loyd led the Mustangs with three assists.
Bellarmine improves to 31-2 on the season and moves to the semi-final round of the NCAA Division II tournament. The Knights will take on the winner of the Alabama-Huntsville/Minnesota State-Mankato game to see who plays for the national championship.
Midwestern State ends the season with their second consecutive Elite Eight appearence, also the second in program history. The Mustangs finish 25-9.