McPherson College’s men’s basketball team holds an 11-4 series lead over crosstown rival Central Christian College, but for the most part the game always produces high drama and a down-to-the-wire finish.
After losing the first nine games of the series, the Tigers have won 4 of the last 6 heading into Wednesday’s Mayor’s Cup game at the Roundhouse, including last year’s 56-53 verdict.
Even in that 0-9 start, just look at some of the games the Tigers lost:
• 57-51 in 2006
• 69-68 in OT in 2007
• 98-96 in 2 OTs in 2008
• 80-77 in 2009
• 87-76 in 2 OTs in 2010
That was a stretch of Heartbreak Hotel for the Tigers, who finally broke through in 2012 when they defeated the Bulldogs, 86-81.
It’s hard to gauge what will happen on Wednesday because we have such a small sample size.
The Tigers have played only one game, a 70-61 loss to Haskell. Tiger standout Jubril Osagie, a 6-7 forward, struggled with fouls and was held to 10 points, while Steve Kuminga led Central with 17 points and 9 rebounds. The Tigers’ expected explosive backcourt of TJ Williams and Paul Ard, both proven performers as they averaged in double figures last season, were a combined 3 of 23 and they’re simply too good to have nights like that again.
I visited a Central practice recently and what I saw was a long-and-athletic team with a lot of pieces, it’s just a matter of veteran coach Tony Romero making it all work. He’s going to need a few games to figure out his rotation, much like McPherson coach Tim Swartzendruber, who utilized a lot of players this past weekend in the McPherson College Classic.
Romero, to me, has done one of the great coaching jobs around. Going into this season he had accumulated 175 wins in 9 years at a smaller school against tough competition. The Tigers formerly played in the now-defunct MCAC, which included powerhouses Oklahoma Wesleyan, College of the Ozarks and Bellevue University, which have been NAIA powers and frequent national tournament qualifiers. Now CCC is in the Sooner Athletic Conference, which last year sent five teams to nationals and may be the toughest conference in the country from top to bottom.
I covered McPherson College’s win over Bacone on Saturday and came away impressed with the Bulldogs’ depth, which has been a key to their 3-0 start. Swartzendruber, in his 11th year, has endured some difficult seasons recently after making the NAIA National Tournament an unprecedented four years in a row, including a trip to both the Final Four and Elite Eight — a feat that is virtually impossible for a KCAC school to accomplish.
The Bulldogs finished fast last year by going 7-2 in their final nine games. Other than Aaron Bachura, they have the same cast back and two of those top freshmen, Fred Watts and Jeffrey Oxford, have taken the next step as sophomores.
A key has been the return to health for point guard Dorian Paige, who missed all of last year with a knee injury. He’s a prototype point guard who knows how to get the ball to the scorers.
Transfer Delvon Hightower is a nice addition as he provides instant offense off the bench. The guy knows how to score, averaging 12 points a game so far. Buhler graduate Grant Owens, provides nice size inside and will only get better and better as he's mature for a freshman. He’ll always make a positive contribution when he’s on the floor.
I am looking for a game with a score similar to last year as I think it will take both teams time to settle down as they'll come into the game uber-hyped. The Bulldogs have done most of their scoring on the inside, while the Tigers relied on their outside game in their opener.