County showdown: Mac hosts Bethany Thursday

By Steve Sell
November 16, 2016

McPherson College’s basketball teams hope to carry over their non-conference success to Thursday night’s KCAC openers against county rival Bethany College.

The action begins with the women’s game at 6 p.m., followed by the men tipping off around 8. Catch all the action on 96.7 KBBE-FM with Voice of the Bulldogs Matt Cole, starting approximately 5:50.

The Mac women are 4-1 after a thrilling 57-55 victory on Saturday over St. Gregory’s of Oklahoma. Brooklyn Coe’s basket with 2.7 seconds left in the game capped a Bulldog rally, as they had trailed by 8 points with 3:25 left in the game.

Bethany’s women enter the night seeking their first win in five tries under new coach Keith Ferguson, a Lindsborg native who most recently was an assistant coach at NCAA Division I Fresno State, but wanted to return home to coach his alma mater.

“It looks like they play many new faces this year,” said Mac coach Gordon Reimer, who also is relying on a bevy of newcomers. “With only four games to look at, it's a little difficult to know player tendencies. They have played well at times against some good teams.”

Reimer has been playing almost all freshmen and sophomores. The Bulldogs have been getting tremendous play from a pair of freshmen, Isabella Bacon and Cami Richardson. Bacon averaged 18 points off the bench in two wins last week, making 11 3-pointers. Richardson’s versatility has lifted the Bulldogs, as she’s excelled in all phases of the game.

Reimer, like most coaches, isn’t a big fan of starting the KCAC portion of the schedule this early, but it became necessitated when the conference swelled to 12 teams.

“Starting the schedule this early favors the teams with the most returners,” he said.   “Unfortunately on the women's side, one or two losses is all you can have and win the conference.  This year I would prefer a couple more weeks of practice and non-conference games.”

The men’s game should be a donnybrook. The Bulldogs have been one of the KCAC’s surprise teams so far with a 4-0 record and they also played an exhibition game against NCAA Division I Air Force Academy, giving a good account of themselves. 

Bethany is 3-3, but has been without suspended starters Cody Harris and Joey Habtemarim, both of whom are expected to play their first games on Thursday. Harris is a preseason All-KCAC pick and All-American candidate. He sat out last year as a medical redshirt, but was one of the top players in the KCAC two years ago as he has unlimited range and is a scoring machine. Habtemariam is a dynamic point guard who will key the Swedes’ high-octane transition game.

“Bethany has become one of the best offensive teams in the conference,” Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber said. “Their new guard Khalid Washington is outstanding. He can score inside and out. Great athlete. Their point guard Tyler Larkin is off to a great start this year and they have two returning posts who are solid. Our keys will be transition defense and rebounding. If we can force them to take shots out of their halfcourt offense and do a good job defensive rebounding we will be fine.”

Swartzendruber also is lukewarm toward starting conference play this early.

“We started conference play this early last year, but had the two byes due to York not being in the rotation,” Swartzendruber said. “It certainly is early, but that is the new normal for KCAC play. It will be a tough grind as we have many conference teams who are showing they are legitimate with non-conference wins. Currently four teams are undefeated, which is the most I can ever recall. I feel the teams who were at the bottom the past several years, including us, are much improved this year. It should be a great race to the end.”