BELLEVUE, Neb. -- Seniors Mike Cardenas and Jerred Cook combined for 44 points to lead the 25th-ranked Bellevue University men's basketball team to a 74-57 victory over Dickinson State University in the championship game of the North Star Athletic Association Tournament Monday night at the Gordon Lozier Athletic Center.
The title gives the Bruins an automatic berth into the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Tournament on March 8-14 in Point Lookout, Mo.
The Bruins, who were playing without their top scorer BJ Shelton, improved to 22-10 on the season with the win. DSU fell to 22-11 overall and will await word of their postseason fate when the National Tournament qualifiers are announced on Wednesday, March 1.
Cardenas drained 7-of-11 3-pointers, scoring 27 points to lead the Bruin offense. Cook was 5-of-7 from behind the arc, registering 17 points to go along with three steals. Jaffery Stillman was the third Bruin in double figures, finishing with 10 points along with eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
Marcus White (16) and Reggie Fields (15) combined for 31 points to pace the Bluehawk offense.
After the Bluehawks made six of their first eight shots to race out to a 12-3 lead in the first five minutes of the contest, the Bruins responded with an 11-0 run capped by three straight 3-pointers by Cardenas to take a 14-12 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the half. BU used a 9-2 run to extend the advantage to 23-14 at the 7:20 mark.
Two consecutive 3-pointers by Cook pushed the Bruin lead to 34-19 with three minutes before intermission. BU shot 47.1 percent from behind the arc in the first half to take a 38-21 halftime lead.
Cardenas was 5-of-8 in 3-point attempts in the first half, leading the Bruins with 17 points. Cook added 11 first-half points.
The Bluehawks, who shot just 29 percent in the opening 20 minutes and committed eight turnovers, were led in the first period by Fields' eight points.
DSU scored five-straight points to pull the Bluehawks to within 13 points before two-straight triples by Cardenas highlighted an 8-0 BU run pushing the lead to 53-32 with 11:19 left in the game.
Six-consecutive DSU free throws drew the Bluehawks to within 15 points at 53-38 at the 8:19 mark. That was as close as DSU would get as BU cruised to the 74-57 victory.
The Bruins finished 50 percent (14-of-28) from 3-point land and held a 33-10 advantage in bench points.
- The NAIA National Tournament bracket (including pairings and game times) will be announced via a live video selection show on www.NAIANetwork.com at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 1.
- The Bruins qualified for the NAIA National Tournament for the 15th-straight season
- The 2017 NSAA Tournament title marks the 13th conference tournament crown for the Bruins, 12 in the MCAC and 1 in the NSAA.
- The Bruins, who tied for the NSAA regular season crown, have won eight conference regular-season titles under head coach Shane Paben and six conference tournament championships.