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EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The 20th-ranked University of Southern Indiana men’s basketball team rolled to its 12th Great Lakes Valley Conference championship with an 86-73 victory over Bellarmine University in the conference tournament title game Sunday at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana. USI rolls to a 25-5 overall mark, while Bellarmine goes to 23-7 in 2013-14.
The victory gives the Screaming Eagles the GLVC automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament that is slated for March 15-18. USI will learn its destination for the tournament tonight when the pairings are announced at 9:30 p.m. (CDT) (NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Selection Show at home on NCAA.com (http://www.ncaa.com/liveschedule/2014/03/09)
The Eagles and Knights were neck and neck through the first 20 minutes with Bellarmine posting a narrow one-point lead at the break, 32-31. Neither team could gain definite control during the first half as they battled to four ties and nine lead changes.
Bellarmine had the largest lead of the half, four points, 10-6, seven minutes into the contest. USI’s largest lead was three points, 19-16, after senior center Aaron Nelson (Chicago Heights, Illinois) converted a pair of free throws with 6:44 to play in the half.
Nelson was a dominate force for USI in the opening half, scoring 14 of the Eagles’ 31 points. Junior guard Gavin Schumann (Cincinnati, Ohio) followed Nelson in the first half scoring column with seven points.
In the second half, USI and Bellarmine traded buckets producing the fifth and sixth ties and ninth and 10th lead changes before the Eagles took command of the championship game. Senior forward Orlando Rutledge (Louisville, Kentucky) ignited an 8-0 run to put the Eagles in charge and up eight points, 46-38.
The 8-0 run spurred the Eagles’ offense into overdrive with senior guard Lawrence Thomas (Springfield, Illinois) as the spark plug. Thomas,who was named to the All-Tournament team, scored 19 second half points by hitting six-of-seven from the field, a perfect four-of-four from beyond the arc, and three-of-four from the charity stripe.
Thomas also would dish out five assists during the second half as the Eagles would go on to lead by as many as 18 points, 73-55, with 5:00 to play. USI would cruise through the final five minutes and win the championship, 86-73.
Individually, Thomas finished the game with a season-high and game-high 23 points. He was followed in the scoring column by Nelson, who had 22 points and 13 rebounds for his 23rd double-double of the season. Nelson also was named the tournament Most Valuable Player and to the All-Tournament team.
Rutledge scored 16 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes. The senior hit three field goals, two from long range, and took advantage of nine trips to the free throw line, making eight.
The USI double-figure scorers were rounded out by Schumann, who had 13 points. He had five field goals, three from beyond the arc.