POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. -- Mike Cardenas scored 23 points to lead the sixth-seeded Bellevue University men's basketball team to knock off third-seeded Briar Cliff University, 80-75 on Thursday evening in the first round of the NAIA Division II National Tournament at Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of the College of the Ozarks.
With the shot clock winding inside of 10 seconds Cardenas hit a three-pointer at the top of the key with 1:53 to play to give Bellevue their largest lead of the second half at 75-69. From there BU did enough to ensure the victory which included Cardenas coming up with a steal with five seconds to play and hitting a pair of free throws with just three second showing on the clock.
In between Cardenas three and defensive stop, Briar Cliff received a pair baskets from the game's leading scorer Bryan Forbes (25 points) to cut the lead to 75-73. On the other end of the court Nick Hilton cut to the basket before kicking a pass out to Jalen Hall in the corner for a high-arcing three-pointer to put the Bruins up 78-73 with 25 seconds to play.
Briar Cliff scored a quick-hitter at the other end and forced a tie-up on the ensuing inbounds play to regain possession with a chance to tie. However, Erich Erdman's (24 points) attempt to dribble behind his back got away from him and Cardenas pounced on the ball and called timeout to secure the Bruin possession. Hilton received the inbounds pass and dished off to Cardenas who was fouled with three seconds to play.
Cardenas sank both ends of the one-and-one opportunity to send the Bruins to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2014. Bellevue is making their 15th-straight appearance at the NAIA National Tournament and 18th overall.
With the victory Bellevue (23-10) advances to Friday's second round where they will meet seventh-seeded York College at 4 p.m. The Panthers defeated second-seeded Rochester earlier in the evening, 85-75, overcoming a tornado delay.
BU and York have met twice previously this season with the Panthers claiming victories in both games which took place on Oct. 28 in York and Nov. 26 at the Lozier Athletic Center.
Briar Cliff concludes their season with an overall record of 26-8.
The first half featured plenty of up and down action before Bellevue took a 43-40 lead into the intermission. Cardenas (11 points) and BJ Shelton (10) both scored in double figures in the opening 20 minutes for BU while Forbes paced the Chargers with 15 first half points.
Briar Cliff started hot, getting off to a 13-6 run by the 16:24 mark. BU responded nicely with a 20-13 edge over the next 9:31 to tie the game at 26-all. The Bruins matched their largest lead of the period at 40-32 with 2:58 to play following a three from Cardenas. Eight straight points from the Chargers tied the game at 40-40 before Shelton hit a free throw with 40 seconds left and a layup three seconds ahead of the halftime buzzer to give BU a three-point lead to take to the locker room.
Cardenas led five Bruins in double figures on the night. He was joined with 10+ points in the scoring column by Hilton (13), Jaffrey Stillman (13), Shelton (12), and Hall (11) while Stillman added 10 rebounds in securing his team-leading eighth double-double of the season and Hall finished with a team-high three assists.
Briar Cliff, the nation's top three-point shooting team, hit 12 threes on the night but took 29 attempts to do so and shot just 43.9 percent from the floor. BU was an efficient 9-of-19 from beyond the arc and shot just under 50 percent (49.1) from the floor overall and a robust 75.0 percent from the free throw line.
BU held sizable advantages in bench scoring (29-7), points in the paint (32-24), and points off turnovers (20-11) while the Chargers narrowly edged Bellevue in second chance points (12-11) despite being out-rebounded 34-31.
- BU advances to their 12th Sweet Sixteen
- The Sweet Sixteen appearance is the first for the Bruins since 2014
- Bellevue is now 22-17 (.564) all-time in the NAIA National Tournament
- The Bruins are 51-6 all-time against their second round opponent, York College