HARROGATE, Tenn. — The Railsplitters (8-3) will ring in 2017 with a New Year’s Eve clash against the No. 5 nationally-ranked Bellarmine Knights (10-1) at 4 p.m. on Saturday inside of Tex Turner Arena.
By almost any measure, Lincoln Memorial and Bellarmine have been two of the most successful Division II men’s basketball programs over the past decade.
The Railsplitters have the second-most wins in the country since 2010 with 198, while Bellarmine is third in that department with 196. Lincoln Memorial played in the 2016 NCAA Division II National Championship game, while Bellarmine has made three Final Four appearances since 2011, when the Knights won the National Championship. In terms of winning percentage, Lincoln Memorial is second in the nation since 2010 and Bellarmine is fourth.
The Railsplitters are returning to the court for the first time since suffering a 107-102 loss to the Newberry Wolves on Dec. 17 in Harrogate. Lincoln Memorial shot 55.7 percent from the field in that contest, but the Wolves accounted for a 39-point difference at the three-point line – 20-7 in made triples – to end the Railsplitters’ five-game winning streak and snap Lincoln Memorial’s 21-game home winning streak.
Trevon Shaw had a season-high 22 points with seven rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench, while Dorian Pinson had 20 points, 14 rebounds and four assists and Chris Perry produced 20 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes of work. Luquon Choice scored 18 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists.
After losing their third game of the 2016-17 campaign, the Railsplitters were not ranked in the top 25 of the NABC/Division II poll for the first time since Nov. 30, 2010, ending a streak of 94 consecutive weeks in the top 25.
That was the second-longest active and all-time streak in the history of the Division II rankings. Lincoln Memorial is still receiving votes in both the DII media poll and the NABC rankings.
The Railsplitters continue to thrive on the offensive end of the floor, ranking fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage (53.6 percent), eighth in scoring (95.2 points per game) and 19th in 3-point field-goal percentage (42.5 percent).
In addition to that, Lincoln Memorial is ranked seventh in the country in field-goal percentage defense by holding opponents to 37.8 percent shooting.
However, defensive execution has been the problem in LMU’s three losses this season, particularly guarding the 3-point line, where opponents are shooting 34.6 percent against the Railsplitters.
Alabama-Huntsville shot 55 percent and went 9-for-20 from three, Carson-Newman shot 49.4 percent and went 7-for-13 from deep and Newberry shot 44.6 percent while converting 20 of its 47 3-point tries.
It will require a solid performance from Lincoln Memorial on both ends of the floor to get past the Bellarmine Knights, who have won 10 straight games since losing on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against No. 4 Saginaw Valley State in the season opener on Nov. 11. Since that loss, the Knights have only had one of their 10 wins decided by fewer than 13 points and that was a 67-63 win over Illinois Springfield.
The Railsplitters and Knights share one common opponent this season in Alabama-Huntsville. Lincoln Memorial suffered a 91-67 loss to the Chargers, which was the worst loss for the program since Josh Schertz took over in 2008, while Bellarmine cruised to an 81-68 win against UAH in the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
Like Lincoln Memorial, Bellarmine is rock solid on both sides of the floor. Offensively, the Knights are generating 83.5 points per game on 53.6 percent shooting, which is the fifth-best field-goal percentage in the country.
The Knights are shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range and handing out 20.1 assists per game, the third-most in the country. Defensively, Bellarmine is allowing the eighth-fewest points per game in the country (63.2) while allowing opponents to shoot just 39.2 percent, which is the 15th-best field-goal percentage defense in Division II.
The Knights are led by the three-headed monster of Adam Eberhard, Al Davis and Rusty Troutman. Eberhard – a 6-8 forward from Evansville, Indiana – leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 17.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game on 63.9 percent shooting.
Davis, a senior point guard, is putting in 12.9 points per game on 50 percent shooting while leading the team with 51 assists. 2015-16 All-American Troutman is averaging 11.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game on 46.3 percent shooting.
In addition to that trio, Tyler Jenkins is putting up 8.9 points per game on 50 percent shooting, while Brent Bach is chipping in 8.0 points per game on 61.5 percent shooting.
The Railsplitters and Knights played for the first time since 2007 last season in Louisville, where Bellarmine came away with a 98-84 victory. The game was much closer than the final score indicated, as Lincoln Memorial trailed by only five points with just over three minutes left before the Knights ended it on a 16-7 run to snap the Railsplitters’ 10-game winning streak. Choice had 16 points in that game, while Troutman powered the Knights with 34 points, aided by an 11-for-17 effort at the charity stripe.
Bellarmine is a perfect 3-0 all-time against the Railsplitters, but Saturday will mark the Knights’ first-ever appearance in Harrogate.
Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday. Live stats, video and audio links are available at www.LMURailsplitters.com, while fans can also follow the game on Twitter (@LMURailsplitter).