I was literally exhausted after covering Central Christian College’s men’s basketball opener Wednesday night at Alexander Arena.
The Tigers’ opponent was KCAC member Friends University, which has four starters back from a team that qualified for the NAIA National Tournament last year and has improved its bench immensely with some players who quite frankly could be starting.
One of the rules changes in the college men’s game this year is reducing the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.
With the blistering pace these teams played, though, the NBA’s 24-second clock would have been suffice.
Central and Friends sped up and down the floor like frightened greyhounds in a game that featured wild scoring swings. The Tigers played a mind-boggling first half to grab a 57-43 lead and then opened the second half with the first eight points to go up 22.
Friends didn’t make the nationals last year without having some grit. Even though the Falcons are playing a totally different style — last year they were patient and ran down the shot clock — they stormed back within one point with just under 5 minutes to go as the Tigers were wilting since they were missing some key reserves and their legs became heavy.
The key, though, was that the Falcons never got the game tied. Central’s starters were physically gassed by the end and that led to some questionable decisions that had coach Tony Romero burying his head in his hands, but they fended off every Friends attempt to come away with an 87-82 victory.
Central, of course, is quietly tucked away in the very south of town. For those who haven’t followed the Tigers, Romero has put together a terrific program that toils somewhat in anonymity. There’s the usual loyal fan base that turns out and a pumped-up student section, but in reality the Tigers are a well-kept secret.
If you’re a fan of exciting basketball, you have to watch CCC’s 6-7 Alonzo Stafford play as he’s worth the price of admission alone. He is a freakish athlete who regularly produces “did he just do that?” moments. He was at his pogo-stick jumping best against the Falcons, throwing down six dunks by my count. I can’t wait to see him when he has an open floor as it’s a Sports Center Top 10 moment waiting to happen. Most of his crams Wednesday were on follows as he soared like an eagle.
The other CCC star is Michael Gholston, a silky 6-5 swingman who came out and fired in his first five 3-pointers and had 23 points in the first half. He tired in the second half as the Falcons rotated physical defenders on him, but there’s no question he has unlimited range and when he’s feeling it, the net barely ripples.
You can’t blame the Tigers if they play with a chip on their shoulder against KCAC schools, whom they have seven games with this year. When the powerhouse MCAC disbanded after last year, Central was a school looking for a conference. Even though the “K” in KCAC stands for Kansas, Central was passed over for former MCAC teams Oklahoma Wesleyan and York College, the latter an even more curious selection than the former. Not having football wasn’t the sticking point, since the two newbies also don’t have football. I guess the KCAC didn’t want to have two schools from the same town.
Having seen McPherson College play last week and Central on Wednesday, I can’t wait for the monumental intra-city showdown next Wednesday at the Sport Center. If the place isn’t SRO and rocking, I’ll be shocked. You’ll be missing quite a show.