Bellarmine wins ASUN, hands NCAA bid to Jacksonville State

Mar 8, 2022, 2:36 AM | Updated: 4:41 pm
Bellarmine guard CJ Fleming (25) goes up for a layup during the second half of an NCAA college bask...

Bellarmine guard CJ Fleming (25) goes up for a layup during the second half of an NCAA college basketball against Jacksonville for the championship of the Atlantic Sun Conference men's tournament in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Bellarmine won 77-72. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — CJ Fleming scored a career-high 27 points, Dylan Penn added 22 and Division I newcomer Bellarmine defeated Jacksonville 77-72 in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament on Tuesday, handing the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament to regular-season champion Jacksonville State.

The Knights, in the second of a four-year transition to D-1, became heroes in Jacksonville, Alabama. Top-seeded JSU fell at home 54-51 to the Dolphins on Saturday, but since Bellarmine is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, the Gamecocks will go dancing.

Bellarmine, a recent Division II power and 2011 champion, defeated Liberty, the other ASUN division champion, 53-50 on the road on Saturday. Jacksonville, which joined the ASUN in 1998, was seeking its first league championship and first NCAA berth in 36 years.

Bellarmine (20-13) made 11 of 12 free throws in the last two minutes with Fleming perfect on eight, to hold off Jacksonville, which made 5 of 8 field goals, two of them 3s, down the stretch.

Jordan Davis scored 22 points for the Dolphins (21-10), which lost the only regular-season meeting 76-73 in overtime in the same building, and Osayi Osifo and Tyreese Davis had 11 each.

Penn, Juston Betz and Curt Hopf hit consecutive 3-pointers to give Bellarmine a 9-4 lead and Sam Devault added back-to-back triples as the Knights started red hot. Penn’s layup midway through the first half made it 28-10 with the Knights going 10 of 14, seven of the baskets behind the arc.

Jacksonville battled back to get within 36-26 at the half, despite going 0 of 10 from 3-point range compared to 9 of 16 for Bellarmine.

The Dolphins hit six 3s in the second half and shot 50% but could get no closer than six.

The Knights finished shooting 50% overall and were 12 of 25 from 3-point range and 15 of 17 from the foul line.

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Bellarmine wins ASUN, hands NCAA bid to Jacksonville State