SPRINGFIELD, Mass. » Heath Gameren nailed a 3-pointer with just seconds remaining in the NCAA Division II national championship game yesterday, slicing the Bellarmine lead to a single point.
For a moment, it seemed as if Brigham Young-Hawaii was going to find a way to complete a memorable run through the tourney with a title.
But a couple of free throws by the second-ranked Knights (33-2) and a missed jumper by Jet Chang sealed the fate of the Seasiders (22-9), who fell 71-68 in a riveting final.
"We hung around and felt like we would find a way to win," Gameren said. "We played hard but just fell short in the end."
The Seasiders had too many turnovers at crunch time. They turned the ball over five times in the final 2 minutes, costing them several shots at grabbing the lead and perhaps the national title.
BYUH finished with 13 turnovers overall and shot only 38.1 percent from the field as it fell in its first appearance in a championship game.
As tough as it was to fall short of a title after not even knowing if it would make the tournament, BYUH coach Ken Wagner was pleased with the effort of his team.
"I am extremely proud of this basketball team," Wagner said. "They have worked hard all year and we did not lose today because of a lack of effort. We kept fighting until the end. We just couldn’t capitalize on some opportunities."
Jet Chang was named the most outstanding player of the tournament, the first time a player from the losing team has earned the honor since 1998, after another head-turning performance.
Chang scored 35 points, hitting two treys midway through the first half that tied the game at 18-18. He racked up 21 points over the opening 20 minutes, but the Seasiders still trailed 47-43 at halftime.
Bellarmine rotated different players on Chang in the second half, hoping to wear down the junior guard. It worked to a certain degree.
The Seasiders tried to get the ball to Chang with a couple of seconds remaining, but his shot wasn’t released on time and the Knights charged the floor and celebrated their championship. Chang scored 100 points in the three games here.
"Getting the (MOP) award isn’t important to me," Chang said. "I wanted to win a title. I tried to help my team do it, but we didn’t do enough to get a win."
Okesene "Junior" Ale dropped in 17 points for the Seasiders.
"We played well defensively in the second half," Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport said. "It is incredibly humbling to win a title because they do not give these away. We earned this as a team."
Bellarmine, paced by the 16-point performances of Chris Dowe and Jeremy Kendle, led by as many as eight in the second half (63-55), but BYUH never gave up, pulling within one at 66-65 before Dowe hit a jumper to put his team back up by three.
Both teams traded turnovers down the stretch before the Knights found a way to secure the win.
"We kept battling the entire game," senior forward Rory Patterson said. "I was happy we had a chance to play for the national title. It’s tough to fall short, but we know we accomplished a lot as a team."
At Springfield, Mass.
BELLARMINE (KY) 71, BYU-HAWAII 68
Chang 12-20 7-8 35, Ale 6-12 1-2 17, Dastrup 3-10 0-0 9, Gameren 1-4 0-0 3, Satterwhite 1-4 0-0 2, Whippy 1-10 0-1 2, Patterson 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-63 8-11 68.
Dowe 5-9 4-4 16, Kendle 5-12 5-6 16, Benedetti 7-15 0-1 15, Hobbs 3-11 1-2 10, Sprague 3-6 3-6 10, Holmes 1-1 2-4 4. Totals 24-54 15-23 71.
Halftime: Bellarmine 47, BYU-Hawaii 43
3-point goals-BYU-Hawaii 12-25 (Chang 4-5, Ale 4-7, Dastrup 3-8, Gameren 1-1, Patterson 0-2, Whippy 0-2). Bellarmine 8-25 (Hobbs 3-9, Dowe 2-5, Benedetti 1-5, Sprague 1-3, Kendle 1-3). Fouled out: None. Rebounds: BYU-Hawaii 34 (Whippy, Marques 8), Bellarmine 40 (Sprague, Luke 11). Assists: BYU-Hawaii 13 (Gameren 4, Whippy 4); Bellarmine 14 (Hobbs 6). Total fouls: BYU-Hawaii 20, Bellarmine 12.