Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at The O' between the Panthers (27-4) and Knights (24-7), with the winner moving on to the Elite Eight on March 28 in Bellarmine's home town of Louisville, Ky. The national quarterfinals will be played that day, the national semifinals on March 30 and the two survivors will move on to Atlanta, Ga., for the national championship game on Sunday, April 7.
Tickets ($10 for adults, $4 for students) for Tuesday's game at The O' are available by visiting the O'Reilly Center box office, calling (417) 873-6389 or visiting www.drurytickets.com.
Drury will take a 19-game winning streak into its second Sweet 16 appearance as a program, the only other one coming in 2004, when Gary Stanfield guided the Panthers to the regional final in Stephensville, Texas, where DU lost to Northwest Missouri State. The 19-game streak ties the 1978-79 DU NAIA national championship squad for the second longest in the program's history, and is just one off the record 20 in a row won by the 1977-78 DU squad.
And for the Panthers, it will mean trying to knock off a Bellarmine squad that not only is trying to play some home games next week in the Elite Eight, but one bent on avenging a 69-62 loss to Drury in the semifinals of the Deaconess Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship tourney on March 8 in Evansville, Ind., the only meeting of the season between the nationally seventh-ranked Panthers and a Bellarmine team that was No. 14 in last week's final NABC Top 25 Coaches Poll.
In that game, Drury trailed 32-31 at the half, and the contest went back and forth for the first 17 minutes of the second half. Tied at 56 with three minutes remaining, the Panthers put together a 6-0 run for some breathing room, then scored the game's final five points to pull away.
Alex Hall had 25 points, including five 3-pointers, to lead four Drury players in double figures. Ian Carter added 12 points, Teddy Simniok had 10 points and Brandon Lockhart had 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds for DU to overcome a 22-point effort from Bellarmine senior guard Chris Dowe and 13 points from his backcourt mate, 6-3 junior Vance Hall.
The Panthers claimed a 29-19 rebounding advantage in the first meeting and shot 65 percent for the game (22 of 34) from the field while limiting Bellarmine to 41 percent (22 of 54), including 9 of 28 shooting (32 percent) in the second half.
"We're playing a team that's 27-4 and won 19 straight while playing in the toughest conference in the country, without a doubt," Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said. "It's a veteran basketball team, tremendously well-coached, but we're also playing our best basketball of the season, so that's the way it should be."
Bellarmine's Hall, a transfer from NCAA Division I Wright State, admitted that the opportunity to go home and play an Elite Eight game at historic Freedom Hall.
"That's definitealy a big factor for us," Hall said, "to be in front of all our fans back home and knowing we'd have that support."
Drury, in the NCAA-II tourney for the sixth time in coach Steve Hesser's nine seasons, advanced to the finals with a 76-62 victory over fourth-seed Michigan Tech Sunday night behind 23 points and eight rebounds - both game highs - from Hall, who pushed his career points total to 2,096 (third all time on the DU charts) and his school-record career total for 3-pointers to 370.
Vance Hall averages 15.1 points and Dowe adds 14.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game to lead the Knights, who won the NCAA-II national championship two seasons ago and were national semifinalists last season.
Alex Hall averages 19.6 points, Lockhart adds 11.7 points and Simniok averages 10.0 points per game to pace the Panthers. Lockhart now has 1,172 points for his four-year career, ranking 26th on the DU charts. After picking up nine assists against Michigan Tech, he now has 511 for his career, needing four to pass Nate Quinn (514 from 1976-80) for fourth on the all-time list. He's already DU's career leader in steals with 255.
Drury leads the all-time series with Bellarmine 7-4, but this month's earlier won stopped a three-game losing streak to the Knights. Bellarmine is also one of only five visiting schools to have won a game in The O' after the Knights beat the Panthers 84-65 on January 12, 2012 in Springfield.
But all that past history, including last week's game, is out the window in this winner-take-all situation.
"Obviously we're excited to still be playing and to play one more game against a very quality opponent," said Hesser, "an opponent we played against last week that has some very good history here of late of getting to the Elite Eight. We anticipate a very exciting, closely contested game."
Hall was named the Daktronics Midwest Region Player of the Year and an All-Region First Team selection last week, while Lockhart and Bellarmine's Hall and Dowe were all Second Team All-Region choices.