staff writer
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — Two Division II men’s basketball powers, each with a national title in the last 10 seasons, met on a neutral court Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
No. 13 Findlay and No. 4 Bellarmine traded punches all game long.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Oilers were the last ones standing.
They held off the defending Midwest regional champs 74-73 to advance to the regional final for the second straight season and fifth time in school history.
UF senior guard Elijah Kahlig, fouled on a 3-pointer, made the first two free throws for the tie and the lead before purposely missing the last.
Bellarmine didn’t get a shot off after a full-court inbound with nine-hundredths of a second left.
“This was a very emotional win for us,” UF coach Charlie Ernst said. “This was a program win.
“Bellarmine is a program that has tremendous respect across the region and across the country. In a lot of ways, a lot of people feel the same way about Findlay. It’s our tradition against theirs.”
Third-seeded Findlay (28-4) advanced to meet top-seed and host Ferris State (34-1) in the regional championship game 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jim Wink Arena in Big Rapids, Michigan. The Bulldogs, No. 2 nationally, routed Lake Superior State 94-71 in the second regional semifinal, the fourth meeting this season between the two schools.
The Oilers defeated Ferris State 68-63 in the second round of the NCAA tournament a year ago. Bellarmine then ended Findlay’s season last year 84-66 in the regional finals at their home court in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ernst talked to his team on Sunday about how much they learned from that game. It took a 40-minute commitment to their game plan to survive and counter every Bellarmine (29-3) run.
Seniors Taren Sullivan and Martyce Kimbrough were locked in from the start offensively. They finished with 22 and 20 points, respectively.
Kimbrough sank five 3-pointers and Sullivan made four.
The Oilers trailed 73-72 with possession and 25 seconds remaining. They weren’t holding for a final shot.
Ernst thought Bellarmine was going to use its fouls and wanted to at least get a shot off.
After dribbling some clock off, Kimbrough fired up an off-balance jumper from the left elbow well short of going in.
Almost as if he knew, he chased the loose ball down to the baseline and got fouled with 3 seconds remaining.
Kahlig got a catch-and-shoot opportunity off the inbounds play and Bellarmine’s Alex Cook fouled him in the left corner.
His shot nearly went in, too, rimming in and out.
“Our guys executed the set (assistant) coach (Dan) Shardo put in about three weeks ago to perfection,” Ernst said. “It freed up Elijah just enough to get that shot off, and he almost made it. I’m so happy and proud of him that he was able to knock down both free throws.”
Ernst used Kimbrough to set a screen for Kahlig, knowing Bellarmine wasn’t going to leave Kimbrough free.
The pick was one of several clutch plays by Kimbrough to keep the Oilers alive.
Bellarmine led 68-62 with 3:30 to go and was on the brink of putting UF away.
In less than a minute span, Kimbrough buried a 3-pointer and drove for a conventional three-point play to knot the game up.
“Tyce is known as the shooter,” Ernst said. “Tonight, he did some things that show just how good of an all-around player he is. He had six assists. He always defends on the ball, gives a straight effort there.”
Findlay’s starters accounted for all 37 of its second-half points.
Junior forward Alex White, who played a season-high 28 minutes and chipped in 10 of his 14 points in the second half. He didn’t miss any of his five field-goal attempts after halftime.
His final bucket, on a wide-open post feed, gave Findlay a 72-71 lead with 55 seconds remaining.
“I thought Alex was just tremendous tonight, on the defensive end especially,” Ernst said.
Meanwhile, senior starting point guard Austin Gardner added eight points.
He also made all three of his shots in the second half — including a second-chance drive to the bucket to pull UF within 71-70 late in the game.
Bellarmine’s Brent Bach had just buried a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession after Kimbrough’s three-point play.
Bach’s 26 points led all scorers. Cook put in 16 points and six rebounds.
Adam Eberhard totaled six points, five rebounds and 10 assists with White (three blocks) neutralizing him for most of the game.
“I’m just proud of everyone,” Ernst said. “It’s hard to put into words what this game means to the team. It’s a testament to the respect we have for Bellarmine.”
In Saturday’s tournament opener, UF rallied from a four-point halftime deficit to defeat Drury (21-8) 84-68.
The Oilers trailed by as much as nine points in the first half before outscoring Drury 50-27 in the second half.
Sullivan had 26 points and six rebounds, White added 13 points and five rebounds, and Kimbrough had 13 points.

Sunday’s Game
FINDLAY (28-4)
Gardner 4-5 0-0 8, Sullivan 9-14 0-0 22, Kimbrough 7-13 1-1 20, Kahlig 2-5 3-5 7, White 6-7 2-2 14, Smith 1-5 0-0 3, Schmock 0-3 0-0 0, Ashley 0-1 0-0 0, Overhiser 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 29-53 6-8–74.
Weyer 1-5 0-0 2, Cook 8-10 0-0 16, Bach 10-18, 2-2 26, Coles 4-8 1-1 11, Eberhard 2-7 1-2 6, Ramser 4-5 0-0 8, Corbett 0-0 0-0 0, Fleming 1-1 0-0 2, Chitty 1-1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 31-534-7–73.
3-Point GOALS: Findlay 10-22 (Gardner 0-1, Sullivan 4-6, Kimbrough 5-9, Kahlig 0-3, Smith 1-2, Ashley 0-1); Bellarmine 7-13 (Weyer 0-3, Bach 4-5, Coles 2-3, Eberhard 1-2).
rebounds: Findlay 23 (Kimbrough 5, Sullivan 4); Bellarmine 24 (Cook 6, Eberhard 5). ASSISTS:Findlay 16 (Kimbrough 6, Kahlig 3); Bellarmine 18 (Eberhard 10). STEALS: Findlay 4; Bellarmine 3. BLOCKS: Findlay 5 (White 3); Bellarmine 0. TURNOVERS: Findlay 11; Bellarmine 10. TOTAL FOULS: Findlay 13; Bellarmine 11. FOULED OUT: None. HALFTIME: Findlay, 37-33
Saturday’s Game
DRURY (21-8)
Conley 2-7 0-0 5, Kinder 4-8 2-4 12, Ballock 0-4 4-4 4, Williams 0-1 1-2 1, Moore 7-9 0-0 14, Potts 2-3 1-2 5, Johnson 3-9 0-0 9, Billinger 1-3 2-2 5, Wolfe 0-1 0-0 0, Kinghorn 4-5 1-2 10. TOTALS: 23-50 11-16 65.
FINDLAY (27-4)
Gardner 2-3 1-1 5, Sullivan 10-17 2-2 26, Kimbrough 5-15 0-0 13, Kahlig 3-11 0-0 8, White 5-7 3-4 13, Smith 2-4 2-2 6, Schmock 3-6 0-0 6, Wildermuth 0-1 0-0 0, Ashley 0-1 2-2 2, Overhiser 2-4 0-0 5. TOTALS: 32-69 10-11 84.
HALFTIME: Drury 38-34.
3-Point GOALS: Drury 8-23 (Garrison 1-4, Kinder 2-2, Ballock 0-4, Williams 0-1, Johnson 3-7, Billinger 1-3, Wolfe 0-1, Kinghorn 1-1); Findlay 10-31 (Sullivan 4-8, Kimbrough 3-9, Kahlig 2-7, Smith 0-2, Schmock 0-2, Ashley 0-1, Overhiser 1-2).
rebounds: Drury 31 (Ballock 9); Findlay 29 (Sullivan 6). ASSISTS: Drury 17 (Johnson 4); Findlay 15 (Schmock 3). STEALS: Drury 2 (Ballock & Potts); Findlay 10 (Schmock 3). BLOCKS: Drury 1 (Moore 1); Findlay 0. TURNOVERS: Drury 18; Findlay 4. TOTAL FOULS: Drury 18; Findlay 13. FOULED OUT: None.
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