Second half defense sees Bellevue spoil Park's season-opener

Jaffery Stillman dropped 13 points and nine rebounds in his season debut
Jaffery Stillman dropped 13 points and nine rebounds in his season debut

OLATHE, Kan. -- Park University closed the game on an 11-3 run but the fourth-ranked Bellevue University men's basketball team held off (NAIA Division I) the 17th-ranked Pirates 68-62 on Thursday evening at the Bell Family Arena in the first game of the Jeff Uphaus Memorial Classis, hosted by MidAmerica Nazarene.

Bellevue's remains unbeaten, at 3-0, in the season's early-going while the season-opening loss for Park sees the Pirates fall to 0-1.

Park came into the game after a 21-8 season in which they reached the Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I National Tournament in 2016-17.

Bellevue got off to a quick start, taking a 6-2 lead at the 15:55 mark of the first half but a 12-2 run over the next 2:17 saw the Pirates seize a 14-8 advantage. Zach Rutland scored nine of Park's 12 points during that spurt on his way to a game-high 30 points.

BU withstood the run from the Pirates and kept the game close through midway point of the half when a bucket from Blake Wilder trimmed the Park lead to just 19-18.

Trailing 21-18, Nick Hilton hit a pair of three-pointers and Austin Moore sank a basket during a 10-4 BU run that saw the Bruins take a 28-25 lead in the half's final four minutes.

Despite shooting just 34.3 percent from the floor in the first half the Bruins found themselves up by two points, 30-28, at the intermission, aided in part by 10 Park turnovers. Zach Rutland led all scorers at the half with 15 points at the break while Hilton paced the Bruin attack with seven points of his own. Rebounds were effectively even in the first half with a slight 21-20 advantage to Bellevue.

BU was strong defensively to begin the second half as they held Park to just 10 points in the first seven and a half minutes of the half, allowing the offense chances to give BU their biggest lead of the game at 46-38.

A Jacob Kline lay-up cut the Park deficit to six before a 7-2 BU run, capped by Jaffery Stillman's tip in on an ally-oop gave the Bruins a 53-42 lead, the first time either side led by double figures, with 7:42 remaining.

Stillman, making his season debut, scored eight-straight for BU at one point, including the first six during a crucial 9-2 Bruin run to re-establish a double-digit lead at 62-49. He wound up with 13 points and nine rebounds on the night.

BU handled the Park full-court pressure with ease in the final minutes as they made enough plays and free throws on the offensive end to hold on for the victory. The Pirates did themselves no favors in the second half as they hit just 10-of-17 free throws as their comeback bid fell short.

Nick Hilton led BU with 16 points, including a 5-of-13 effort from beyond the arc and the BU bench dominated the Pirate reserves, out-scoring them by a margin of 28-4. BU committed a season-low nine turnovers in the victory.

The 3-0 start for Bellevue is their best since beginning the 2014-15 season with five-straight victories.

Mason Stuteville supported Rutland as he chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds for Park.

Bellevue next plays tomorrow against the winner of the MidAmerica Nazarene-Kansas Christian game at 7:30 p.m. Park will take on the loser of MNU-KCC tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.