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McPherson completes dream run, wins KCAC men’s title

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 11:05 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 11:57 p.m.

— A turnaround was never out of the question for McPherson College men’s coach Tim Swartzendruber.

McPherson lost 12 of its 16 regular-season games in the KCAC, but by an average margin (7 points) close enough for its coach to reserve a shred of hope.

“I’ve always felt like we had the talent,” Swartzendruber said.

But what has occurred in the last five days?

From playing in a must-win game to earn the eighth and final seed in the KCAC tournament, to winning a berth in the NAIA Division II Tournament, McPherson concluded its miracle run with an 87-80 victory over Sterling in the KCAC title game on Tuesday night at Hartman Arena. This will be McPherson’s fourth consecutive trip to the NAIA tournament.

Not even Swartzendruber could dream this one up.

“The last week has just been unbelievable,” he said. “I can’t even describe how excited and proud I am of these guys.”

After winning 33 games last season, McPherson struggled trying to replace the lost production. Injuries sidelined three starters for the year, and the only thing that mounted up quicker injuries was the losses – McPherson started KCAC play 1-9.

“We looked around at each other and didn’t really know how each other played,” McPherson senior Kasey Miller said. “We just couldn’t come together. We were butting heads a lot.”

Since the KCAC tournament began, McPherson has exuded all of the best qualities of a team playing without pressure.

The same formula worked against Sterling, as the Bulldogs never trailed by more than a possession and led for nearly the entire second half. The lead ballooned to as many as 11 points and never under five in the final 15 minutes.

“Everybody is just playing free right now,” McPherson’s Adam Bruner said. “Nobody really is worried about anything and we just go out there and play basketball.”

Nobody did that better than Bruner, who continued the tradition of McPherson High products leading the town’s college to the national tournament.

Bruner, who averaged 10.5 points, scored a season-high 27 points on 11-of-21 shooting.

“Mac High guys are winners,” Swartzendruber said. “Kurt Kinnamon does a tremendous job up there. Those guys expect to win and I think that mentality has rubbed off on our guys.”

Sterling choose to play the odds of testing Bruner’s jump shot instead of his driving ability, giving him space on defense until the free-throw line. Bruner repeatedly made the Warriors pay, making 3 of 4 three-pointers.

“I took it as kind of a slap in the face,” Bruner said. “But I think I got the last laugh.”

After McPherson made 10 of 11 free throws to secure its destiny, the players and their raucous student supporters celebrated like only an underdog can.

“This is a dream come true,” said Samson Shivers, who scored 17 points. “We had our lows and there were times where it was really bad, but we always believed. We never stopped believing.”

McPherson went through its adversity and came out the other side a new team.

“Underdog, fairy tale, eight seed, whatever you want to call it,” Miller said. “We don’t care, but we’re not done yet.”

McPHERSON COLLEGE (15-17): Reinhardt 2-5 7-7 11, Johnson 3-7 2-2 8, Lakin 1-7 0-0 2, Shivers 6-13 4-4 17, Bruner 11-21 2-3 27, Miller 1-2 4-4 7, Powers 5-8 1-1 13, Roop 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 30-65 20-21 87.

STERLING COLLEGE (21-11): Brown 2-6 2-3 6, Alexander 5-13 2-4 15, Green 0-1 0-0 0, Odomes 6-12 1-1 14, Smith 3-5 0-0 6, Thompson 6-14 1-1 16, Stacker 4-5 0-0 8, Adesodun 3-8 0-1 6, Givens 2-5 0-0 5, Dower 2-3 0-0 4, Swank 0-0 0-0 0, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-72 6-10 80.

Halftime_McPherson 39, Sterling 36. 3 pt. shooting_McPherson 7-17 (Bruner 3-4, Powers 2-4, Miller 1-2, Shivers 1-4, Lakin 0-3), Sterling 8-28 (Thompson 3-7, Alexander 3-10, Odomes 1-3, Givens 1-3, Green 0-1, Adesodun 0-4). Rebounds_McPherson 35 (Johnson 10), Sterling 41 (Thompson 11). Assists_McPherson 6 (Shivers 2), Sterling 12 (Alexander 4). Fouls_McPherson 10, Sterling 19.

Southwestern 90, Kansas Wesleyan 65 — After losing by one point in last season’s KCAC title game, Southwestern left little doubt this time around.

The Moundbuilders avenged their last loss, 70-64 to Kansas Wesleyan on Jan. 23, by outscoring the Coyotes by 30 points in the second half to extend their winning streak to 10 games and advance to the NAIA Division II Tournament for the third straight season.

“We had it coming from everywhere,” Southwestern coach Dave Denly said. “It was just nuts.”

After trailing 38-33 at halftime, the Moundbuilders shot 63 percent and connected on eight three-pointers to outscore the Coyotes 57-27 to win going away.

Jana Reichenberger, a Bishop Carroll graduate and the KCAC freshman of the year, led the Moundbuilders with 16 points and seven rebounds off the bench.

“That was the best feeling ever,” Reichenberger said, “just knowing that you’re going to win and it just keeps going. That was amazing.”

Alecia Smith scored a game-high 20 points for Wesleyan, which shot 25 percent and turned the ball over 12 times in the second half.

KANSAS WESLEYAN (18-14): Frost 3-8 0-0 7, Cassity 7-13 16, Kresin 3-9 1-2 8, Smith 6-13 8-9 20, Olson 2-8 0-0 5, LeShore 0-0 2-3 2, Britton 3-3 0-0 7, Heim 0-3 0-0 0, Stever 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 24-59 12-14 65.

SOUTHWESTERN COLLEGE (23-7): Rickey 6-10 0-0 14, Bryan 3-11 2-5 9, Shaffer 3-5 0-0 6, Robinson 4-8 0-0 10, Tennyson 4-9 0-0 9, Reichenberger 6-11 4-6 16, Jo. Hobbs 4-6 1-2 10, Je. Hobbs 2-6 0-0 5, Zoglmann 2-3 2-2 8, Watson 0-1 0-0 0, Fort 0-1 0-0 0, VanGieson 0-0 0-0 0, Bleumer 1-1 1-1 3, Posey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-72 10-16 90.

Halftime—Kansas Wesleyan 38, Southwestern 33. 3 pt. shooting—Kansas Wesleyan 5-20 (Cassity 2-3, Britton 1-1, Frost 1-2, Olson 1-6, Kresin 0-1, Heim 0-3), Southwestern 10-24 (Zoglmann 2-3, Robinson 2-4, Rickey 2-5, Bryan 1-2, Jo. Hobbs 1-2, Je. Hobbs 1-2, Tennyson 1-5, Watson 0-1). Rebounds—Kansas Wesleyan 33 (Cassity 11), Southwestern 43 (Bryan 10). Assists—Kansas Wesleyan 11 (Smith 4), Southwestern 17 (Shaffer 8). Fouls—Kansas Wesleyan 16, Southwestern 11.

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