By Jack Sintic
The Bellarmine men’s basketball team looks to move up the Atlantic Sun (ASUN) Conference standings as it takes on Stetson University this weekend at home.
The team swept Florida Gulf Coast University on the road last weekend, bringing its record to 5-5 overall and 2-2 in the ASUN.
FGCU, which beat the University of Miami earlier in the season, appeared to be a large roadblock for Bellarmine, but the Knights pulled off the sweep. Night one ended in a 74-60 victory for Bellarmine, while game two ended in a much wider 80-63 victory.
“We felt great going into last weekend because we had a great week of preparation,” Bellarmine head coach Scott Davenport said.
Headed into their third consecutive week of ASUN play against Stetson University (4-6, 2-2), the Knights want to make a statement in the conference.
However, it won’t be as easy as just showing up, redshirt junior Juston Betz said. “Something that we learned right away and will continue to learn is that it’s going to be competitive night in and night out,” he said.
Despite their solid play, the Knights have had to overcome nearly constant quarantine from August to December.
Betz said: “Overall, starting from August to early December we were put into quarantine four or five times for two weeks at a time, so it was a constant back and forth. It was really frustrating.”
In a season that has made it difficult to have any consistent preparation, the Knights have found a way to persevere and come out ready to play.
“They took it on as a challenge. They love a challenge. Some people don’t like to be challenged, this team loves to be challenged,” Davenport said. “The strength, the perseverance they’re showing right now is going to bode well for them being successful for the rest of their life.”
With the Knights shooting well, – 50.3% field goal percentage and 38.9% from the 3-point line, – they have been causing problems for defenders. Bellarmine’s players to watch in this game are CJ Fleming, Ethan Claycomb and Pedro Bradshaw.
Fleming, who missed the first three games of the season due to injury, has bounced back quickly, averaging 11.6 points per game. He scored an impressive 19 points in Bellarmine’s 74-60 victory over FGCU.
Claycomb put up 17 points in the second game against FGCU and earned the ASUN player of the week award for his strong overall performance.
Bradshaw leads the team scoring average with 13 points per game but had below-average scoring in Fort Meyers against FGCU. In game one, he scored a season-low 4 points. He finished with 12 points in the second game.
Stetson, coming off a series split with Liberty University, poses a threat to Bellarmine in the form of sophomore Rob Perry. Perry is scoring 14.4 points per game with a 36.8% average from the 3-point line.
Defensively, the Hatters are also threatening. “Defensively, they have the best shot blocker in the league. He is a legitimate 6’10” shot blocker, I mean there is no question.” said Davenport.
Sophomore Mahamadou Diawara averages 1.4 blocks and 1.8 takeaways per game. The key for the Knights will be finding a way to minimize his defensive action.
Stetson assistant coach Adam Williams said he was excited about the Hatters’ result at Liberty.
“It was great. Anytime you can play toe-to-toe with those guys and compete at a high level, and you know, we got the split there, Williams said during a phone interview. “I think our guys did a great job, especially being a little short-handed last weekend with our roster… to be able to split with those guys who are just an unbelievable program.”
Despite Stetson’s accomplishment at Liberty, Williams said he understands taking on Bellarmine won’t be an easy task.
“This team, historically, and recently have been a national power in Division II. So, moving up to our level is not really a move up. They’re ready to go from day one,” Williams said. “The tenacity they play with, the toughness they play with, they’re well rounded and you know it’s going to be a rock fight… You know they’re going to make you work for everything you get.”
Williams wasn’t the only one who recognized the fight their opponent had in them.
Davenport said: “You have to be able to stay incredibly focused. And you can’t just do it on gameday. You’ve gotta do it all week leading up, so that’s our emphasis all week. We will have the incredible respect for Stetson, just as we did for Florida Gulf Coast.”
Tip off Friday night is at 7 p.m. in Freedom Hall. The Knights will face the Hatters again Saturday in Freedom Hall at 5 p.m. ESPN+ will carry both games.