The “McPherson College Miracle” continued on Saturday night at the Sport Center.
The Bulldog men’s basketball team may have saved its fairytale season with a remarkable come-from-behind 87-83 victory over Bethel in a game I twice had given them up for dead.
Coming off an ego-sapping 39-point loss at Oklahoma Wesleyan on Wednesday that was easily the low point of the season – and that came after a loss to 12th-place Sterling on the previous Saturday – the Bulldogs were facing a crucial game as they entered the night trailing Bethel by a half-game for third place in the standings and on the fringe of still hosting a first-round playoff game.
The Threshers, a senior-dominated team, virtually doubled over the Bulldogs with a 19-4 gut punch to open the game and Mac’s intestinal fortitude was about to be tested. It could have gone the way of Oklahoma Wesleyan and mailed the rest of the game in, or bowed up to start to chip way.
It chose to chip, chip, chip.
A pair of Lual Magot 3-pointers to close out the first half whittled what had once been a 17-point deficit to 9, which in the age of the 3-pointer doesn’t take long to overcome.
Mac then kept its foot on the gas and finally tied the game for the first time at 62-all and later went up 66-65.
But the Bulldogs then looked to undo all their good work as they turned it over on five straight possession without getting off a shot as Bethel took advantage to sprint to an 11-point lead with just 5 minutes left as the uber-talented Threshers probably believed they had weathered the storm.
But the final run belonged to the Bulldogs as they finished the game on a 19-4 sizzle for the improbable victory.
The Bulldogs are now 14-7 in the KCAC, still two games back of 15-5 Ottawa in the loss column. Mac has Wednesday night off while the other 12 teams do battle as each team in the conference gets two bye nights during the conference season.
Oklahoma Wesleyan is second at 14-6, while Mac and Friends are 14-7. Southwestern, Bethel and Kansas Wesleyan are all 13-7 as one loss can really drop you down at this point.
On Wednesday, Ottawa is home to play York, which has been reeling. Two huge games, though, have major bearings on the race, Friends at Bethel, while Kansas Wesleyan goes to Southwestern. Anyway you look at it, the Bulldogs are going to be helped.
Ottawa isn’t out of the woods yet as after York on Wednesday, it has a road game at Sterling (which has knocked off Mac and Southwestern in recent games), and then the Braves finish up with a home game against Kansas Wesleyan and in what could be the biggest game of the season, they play at the Sport Center on the final Saturday, where the Bulldogs have lost only once all year.
Mac’s three games include a tough road game on Saturday at Kansas Wesleyan, before coming home to host second-division Avila and then Ottawa, which it defeated at Wilson Field House last month.
That Mac is even in this position is a testament to the job Eskildsen has done. I think if the Bulldogs get to 20 wins overall, the KCAC Coach of the Year will come down to Mac’s version of Big Red or Ottawa’s Aaron Siebenthall. The KCAC coaches very seldom deviate from voting the conference champion’s coach as the best, but I think to take a team picked 11th at the start of the season and right in the championship race until the final 2 weeks warrants a lot of consideration.
Remember, this is a Bulldog team that won only 10 games last year and was just 6-18 in the KCAC. There’s not that many new players as the ones who were here last year have elevated their games.
Hopefully the Bulldogs can win out and then get some help. It’s been a long time since those four straight years they went to Branson, Mo., for the NAIA National Tournament.