There’s coming back, then there’s coming all the way back to win.
McPherson College’s men, on the verge of being run out of the Sport Center on Thursday by county rival Bethany College, mounted a comeback for the ages.
But they couldn’t complete it.
Down 55-37 early in the second half, the Bulldogs went on a 28-7 tear over 8 minutes to actually grab a 65-62 lead.
But then free throw shooting — cold on the Bulldogs’ part and solid on the Swedes’ part — decided the game as Bethany emerged with an 83-80 victory in the KCAC opener for both teams.
The Bulldogs, one of the better free throw shooting teams in the country last year, were 10 of 17 in the second half from the stripe and Bethany was 14 of 17, including 9 of 10 in the final 5:53. Mac had one stretch where it missed 5 of 6 and they were all crucial.
“We were pleased to come back after being so far down,” said Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber, whose team lost for the first time this season after starting 4-0. “When we got the lead, I thought we were going to keep the lead. Free throws... it was just so frustrating. This team is a tremendous free throw shooting team and we were horrible (11 of 21) tonight. We’re better than that at the free throw line.”
The Swedes, now 4-3 overall, welcomed back Joey Habtemariam and Cody Harris from six-game suspensions and they made an immediate impact in their season debuts.
They entered the game with Bethany up 19-18 and in the next 2 minutes they combined to rain four 3-pointers to push the lead to double digits.
It was Habtemariam who slammed the door shut by making 4 of 4 free throws in the closing moments and he led the Swedes with 18 points. Harris, though, made his first two shots, but missed his last eight. However, just his presence seemed to excite the Swedes, who have a tremendous collection of individual talent that if it can play together will boost them into the thick of the KCAC title chase.
Khalid Washington and Tyler Larkin also hit for double figures for the Swedes with 13 points apiece.
D’Andre Henson led Mac with 19, and Aaron Bachura and Chris Crook scored 15 apiece, all of Crook’s coming in the second half when he sparked the rousing Bulldog comeback.
Even though the Bulldogs were without 6-8 starting center Reed Rowell for the game, they still ruled the glass with a 40-36 rebounding edge. Thomas Butler pulled down 9 rebounds, one more than Careino Gurley.
Mac heads up to Salina on Saturday to take on Kansas Wesleyan, while the Swedes are home for what should be a slugfest with Ottawa.
Mac (80) — Gurley 8, Butler 8, Henson 19, Bachura 15, Raleigh 6, Crook 15, Munsen 6, O’Hara 3.
Bethany (83) — Washington 13, Thompson 6, Larkin 13, Funderburke 9, Merzwinski 9, Harris 5, Habtermarian 18, D. Kelly 2, K. Kelly 2, Okafor 4, Patrick 2.