SAN JOSE — With Bellarmine starting center Constantijn Cole out with an ankle injury, and arguably their best defender Ian Elam suffering from illness, the No.6-seeded St. Ignarius Wildcats had a golden opportunity to upset the No. 3-seeded Bells in Saturday’s Central Coast Section Open Division quarterfinals.
Even with a heroic 27 points from Stanford-bound Neal Begovich, the Wildcats couldn’t find a crack in the Bells, who saw three different players score in double digits, while only Begovich and Wrenn Robinson (12 points) scored more than five for St. Ignatius.
Kiran Kruse poured in a team-high 16 on 5-of-7 shooting in the 57-54 win for Bellarmine, knocking the Wildcats out of the Open Division tournament, and leaving St. Ignatius to wait and see who they face in the Northern California bracket.
“I really liked what our game plan was, coming in, and I thought we really executed it, at times, first half and second half,” said Wildcats head coach Rob Marcaletti. “Then, there were times where we completely went off of that, and Bellarmine exposed us when we did that.”
St. Ignatius had planned on pressuring the “right guys,” Marcaletti said, but while they held Elam to just four points, Kruse still got his, while Ridley Ruth scored eight points and Quinn Denker went off for 15, including a pair of first-quarter threes.
St. Ignatius got off to a fine enough start, going up 17-11 thanks to four points off of three first-quarter turnovers by the Bells. A three by junior Daniel Webster put St. Ignatius up 17-11 with 1:28 to go, as he turned back up court before the ball splashed the bottom of the net.
A three at the buzzer by Denker, though, shrank the lead to 19-17, as he held up three fingers and flicked them away as if shooing a fly.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Bells went on a 14-0 run, capped by a three from the left corner by Kruse, who finished with 16. A long two by Robinson stopped the bleeding and ended a 4:10 scoreless streak, but only momentarily. The Wildcats forced just one turnover in the second stanza.
Bellarmine led by as many as 10, and went into the locker room up a 33-24. The lead swelled to 37-24 over the first three minutes of the third quarter, as Denker — who scored 15 on the night — hit a crossover to slip by both Kahn-Adle and Daniel Webster, who fell into each other as Denker cut in for an easy basket, bringing the Bells fans to their feet.
“We made some uncharacteristic plays,” Marcaletti said. “We’ve got to execute. When we get to these teams, everybody’s good. In the Open Division, it comes down to who can execute and who can play a little poised and who can not beat themselves.
After the first half, the Bells turned the ball over six times, but only allowed six points off of those turnovers, in contrast to the Wildcats, who turned the ball over eight times after halftime.
The plan, Marcaletti said, was to put Bellarmine in uncomfortable situations and speed up the pace of play. The Bells resisted, making smart decisions and not allowing the Wildcats to rush their decision making.
A three by Robinson — one of just two on the night for the normally-sharp-shooting guard — narrowed the lead to nine, but a foul by Cason on Kruse sent him to the line for a trio of free throws, all of which he hit.
“There were a lot of times in the second half where we just beat ourselves,” Marcaletti said. “Something that Bellarmine’s always been good at, the last two or three years, is that they just generally don’t beat themselves. We got them to speed up a little bit with two minutes left in the game, got back in the game, and they slowed it right back down.”
The Bellarmine lead remained in the double digits, until a Begovich block led to an up-and-under double-pump lay-up by the Stanford-bound forward. He drew the foul, hit the and-one, and then on the next possession, he did the same — hitting a driving lay-up and then nailing the and-one. The Bells called time with their lead down down to six — 55-49 — with 2:10 to go in the game.
Bellarmine pressed, stayed disciplined and cautious and forced St. Ignatius to walk the ball up, preventing them from getting into any kind of rhythm.
However, a turnover by Ruth on the baseline gave way to a Malcolm McCray-Hill lay-up with 1:17 to go. McCray Hill forced a back-court violation on Kruse out of a Bellarmine time out, but Begovich couldn’t sink his 3-point attempt.
With 17 seconds to go, Kruse in-bounded the ball to Ruth, who took a foul, and nailed both free throws. Another 3-pointer by the Wildcats — this one from Kahn-Adle — bounced off the rim. Kahn-Adle fouled Kruse, whose free throw fell short, and Begovich hit a 3-pointer at the other end with half a second remaining. St. Ignatius would not get another chance.
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