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Hot Friends easily takes KCAC lead

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, at 11:32 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at 8:34 a.m.

Photos

One made three-pointer every 109 seconds, one half of basketball featuring 11 daggers, and one decisive swing in the KCAC standings as a result.

Friends buried Sterling under a barrage of three-pointers, tying its season-high with 17, breaking the tie atop the conference standings with a 97-76 victory on Thursday night at Garvey Gymnasium.

The Falcons (23-5, 14-3 KCAC) own a one-game lead over Sterling (21-7) in the standings with one to play. Friends clinched at least a share of the regular-season title, but must avenge its lone home loss of the season on Saturday when it travels to Tabor to secure the automatic qualifier to the NAIA national tournament.

If they shoot anything like they did on Thursday, when the Falcons connected on 11 of 17 from beyond the arc in the first half, their odds are favorable.

“They start counting them before we even get the shot up,” Friends coach Dale Faber said of his team.

There’s no question Friends is playing determined and shooting with confidence, none more so than senior Zach Nelson.

In the last five games, Nelson is shooting close to 60 percent from the three-point line. On Thursday, Nelson missed his first three-pointer but made his next three — in a span of 92 seconds — and finished with six for the game.

“It was very emotional coming out,” Nelson said. “The crowd was amazing tonight and when the crowd gets you going and you hit that first shot, then you hit another, and that turns into three and that turns into everyone hitting shots.”

To the delight of the lively crowd, Nelson wasn’t the only Falcon firing in the first half.

After his early barrage gave Friends a 14-10 lead, Joe Mitchell, Brett Williams, and Colton Rausch followed with three-pointers. Nelson added another, then Mitchell found his rhythm and delivered back-to-back threes to bury Sterling in a 41-21 hole with 3:49 remaining in the first half.

“With a team as talented offensively as that, you’re going to give up something,” Sterling coach Dean Jaderston said. “When they shoot the ball that well, there’s not too many teams that are going to beat them.”

Friends ranks first in NAIA Division II in field goal percentage and fourth in made three-pointers, and it’s not because the Falcons are chucking long-range shots.

It’s a carefully crafted offense, generated by Mitchell’s ability to beat his defender and draw a second and sometimes a third. That leaves shooters like Nelson and Rausch open in corners and on the wings — the majority of their shots are unguarded because of Mitchell, who leads the NAIA in scoring average at nearly 33 points per game.

Sterling focused on taking away Mitchell’s driving lanes, which it accomplished, but paid a steep price by Friends’ sharpshooters. Friends finished 17 for 31 on three-pointers and shot 57.6 percent from the field.

“Of course they’re going to be concerned about the No. 1 scorer in the nation,” Nelson said. “All I have to do is find open wood and knock down the shots.”

While even Friends admits that 11 three-pointers in a half and 17 in a game is a result of hot shooting, it is not surprised by those counts.

After falling behind by 19 at halftime, Sterling never threatened in the second half. Sterling was led by Darius Alexander, who scored 20 points.

“It’s what we do,” said Mitchell, who scored 27 points and finished with 10 assists. “We’re a great three-point shooting team, one of the best in the country. It’s what we do, so it’s not a surprise.”

When the machine that the Falcons’ offense has turned into executes at the rate it’s going at, it would be easy to be taken for granted.

Just don’t count on it being Faber.

“I don’t take for granted waking up in the morning,” Faber said. “I have not given myself a chance to dwell on what a special group they are. If I get messed up, they’ll get messed up right with me. We have to stay on task. We have to win one more.”

STERLING: Adesodun 4-9 5-6 14, Alexander 7-16 3-4 20, Thompson 2-11 3-4 8, Swank 1-4 0-0 3, Dower 1-1 0-0 2, Jaderston 0-0 0-0 0, Oyatayo 7-7 0-0 16, Green 3-7 1-2 7, Givens 0-4 2-2 2, Eubanks 2-4 0-0 4, Ray 0-0 0-2 0, Smith 0-1 0-0 0, Starks 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-66 14-20 76.

FRIENDS: Nelson 7-12 0-0 20, Mitchell 10-15 2-6 27, Williams 3-5 1-2 8, White 5-8 3-4 13, Rausch 5-7 3-3 15, Johnson 2-3 1-4 6, Michaelson 0-1 0-0 0, Simmonds 0-0 1-2 1, Wilson 2-5 0-0 6, Sponsel 0-0 1-2 1, Baxter 0-1 0-0 0, Goudeau 0-2 0-0 0, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0, Durham 0-0 0-0 0, Hyde 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-59 12-23.

Halftime—Friends 48, Sterling 29. Three-point shooting—SC 8-28 (Alexander 3-7, Oyatayo 2-2, Swank 1-4, Adesodun 1-5, Thompson 1-6, Green 0-2, Givens 0-2), FU 17-31 (Nelson 6-10, Mitchell 5-7, Rausch 2-3, Wilson 2-5, Johnson 1-1, Williams 1-2, Baxter 0-1, Goudeau 0-1). Rebounds—SC 37 (Thompson 8), FU 38 (White 10). Assists—SC 10 (Alexander 3), FU 24 (Mitchell 10). Fouls—SC 21, FU 17.

Friends women 76, Sterling 65 — The Falcons improved to 14-3 in KCAC play and 23-6 overall behind a near triple-double from Kayla Mollere, who recorded game-highs in points (15), rebounds (11), and assists (7). Sterling (10-17, 6-11 KCAC) was led in scoring by Kelsey Strobel with 13 points.

STERLING: Faul 4-9 0-0 11, Davis 3-10 0-0 7, Lucas 3-6 4-5 10, Strobel 2-4 7-7 13, Dauer 2-4 3-5 7, Branch 3-5 0-0 7, Brickell 0-1 0-0 0, Waters 1-1 0-0 2, Sullen 3-5 1-2 8. Totals 21-45 15-19 65.

FRIENDS: Winningham 2-5 0-2 4, Bartelds 3-6 0-0 8, Justice 2-6 4-4 8, Munds 3-8 3-7 12, Mollere 6-14 3-4 15, Sanders 2-6 0-0 4, Sellers 3-11 5-11 11, Atherton 2-2 0-1 4, Steffenson 3-8 2-2 10. Totals 26-66 17-31 76.

Halftime—Friends 37, Sterling 22. Three-point shooting—SC 8-15 (Faul 3-5, Strobel 2-2, Branch 1-2, Sullen 1-3, Davis 1-3, Brickell 0-1), FU 7-16 (Munds 3-6, Bartelds 2-4, Steffenson 2-4, Justice 0-2). Rebounds—SC 38 (Lucas 8), FU 38 (Mollere 11). Assists—SC 13 (Davis 5), FU 14 (Mollere 7). Fouls—SC 22, FU 18.

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