Panthers Drop Bellarmine 69-62 To Reach Sunday's GLVC Championship Game
Courtesy of Drury Athletic Department
Evansville, Ill. -- Drury's magical basketball season took another major step on Saturday, when the top-seeded Panthers downed fifth-seed Bellarmine 69-62 to reach Sunday's Deaconess Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship game here at the Ford Center.
Tipoff will be at 1 p.m. Sunday between the top-seed Panthers (24-4) and either No. 2 seed Wisconsin-Parkside or No. 3 seed Southern Indiana, who were meeting Saturday afternoon in the other semifinal.
For Coach Steve Hesser's nationally eighth-ranked Panthers, their 16th consecutive victory - setting a new mark for consecutive wins by a DU club since the program moved to the NCAA-II level (1994-95) - Saturday's gritty triumph over the 12th-ranked Knights might have had even greater big-picture implications.
Drury was ranked No. 1 and Bellarmine No. 2 in the NCAA's Midwest Region rankings released on Wednesday, those used to determine the host for next weekend's regional (March 16-17 and 19) with Saturday's winner figuring to gain a big final advantage (with head-to-head results being one of the determining categories).
The Panthers will officially wait til 9:30 p.m. Sunday - when the NCAA-II Selection Show reveals the pairings at www.ncaa.com - for confirmation, and would leave no doubt by taking care of business in Sunday's GLVC finals as they attempt to secure their first league crown since winning it at Weiser Gym in 2008.
Alex Hall scored 25 points to lead four Panthers in double-figures as Drury grinded out a victory over the Knights (22-7). Ian Carter added 12 points, Teddy Sinniok had 11 points and Brandon Lockhart added 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds as the Panthers won the battle of the boards 29-19.
Drury trailed 32-31 at halftime, as the Knights forced 11 DU turnovers and used 14 first-half points from senior guard Chris Dowe to grab the narrow advantage.
The Panthers never could quite pull away until late in a game that ws tied at 56 with three minutes remaining.
Drury put together a 6-0 run at that point on layups by Simniok and Lockhart and a pair of free throws by Hall, to lead 62-56 with 1:31 to go. The Knights countered with a Vance Hall trey with 1:04 left to cut that margin in half, but Ian Carter's dunk at the 56-second mark put the Panthers back up by five (64-59).
The Panthers scored the game's final five points and held the Knights to a tack-on 3-pointer by Ryan Burton with eight seconds left to continue a winning streak that matches top-ranked West Liberty for the nation's longest currently at 16 games.
"I thought the game was exactly what we thought it would be ... back and forth," Hesser said. "Bellarmine is a very good team, very well coached with outstanding players that caused a lot of problems for us.
"I thought there was a stretch in the second half where we really locked down defensively and were able to secure some key rebounds. We had way too many turnovers - I'll give credit to Bellarmine and their defense for that - but when we were able to handle it, we got the basketball in some very good spots and shot a very high percentage."
Drury shot 65 percent from the field (22 of 34) for the contest, including 60 percent (6 of 10) from 3-point range, as Hall went 5 for 9 from behind the arc.
Bellarmine was held to 41-percent shooting (22 of 54) by the league's top-ranked FG percentage defense, including a 7-for-23 effort (30 percent) from 3-point range for a Knights team that came into the contest ranked second behind only DU in FG percentage (.508) and 3-point percentage (.392).
Dowe finished with 22 points and six steals for the Knights.
Lockhart's eight rebounds were a career high, while Hall grabbed seven boards one game after having none in Thursday's quarterfinal win over Indianapolis.
"Brandon got some huge rebounds down the stretch and hit some big buckets, and obvious with Alex getting seven rebounds, that's something we're very proud of," Hesser said. "We've been encouraging him to be more active on the boards, and he did today. He also had some big assists and made some key baskets when we needed them."
Hall's 25 points pushed him to 2,022 for his career, moving him within three points of passing Matt Miller (2,024 from 1998-92) for third all-time on the DU scoring list. Hall pushed his career 3-point total to 360 with five treys on Saturday, also a DU all-time mark that Miller previously held (351).
Lockhart had one steal on Saturday, and now with 250 for his career, needs two to pass Ted Young (251 from 1984-88) to become Drury's all-time leader in that category.
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