Mac men making a late charge

By Steve Sell
January 26, 2017

McPherson College men’s basketball coach Tim Swartzendruber has maintained all season he has a good team.

Even when the Bulldogs went 1-10 after a 6-2 start and sank to the bottom of the KCAC standings, Swartzendruber never lost faith.

The Bulldogs are finally rewarding their coach’s belief in them. With Wednesday’s 77-64 victory over Bethel to avenge an earlier-season loss, the Bulldogs now have won three of their last four, the only blemish a last-minute loss to Oklahoma Wesleyan.

Mac is now 4-11 in the KCAC and tied with Bethel for the 11th spot. They’re a half-game back of Sterling, its opponent Saturday, as the 4-10 Warriors still have a makeup game to play. Kansas Wesleyan and Oklahoma Wesleyan are 5-9 as both also have to play a postponed game. Then you have Bethany at 7-8, but the Swedes have been on a slide as they had lost seven in a row before breaking through on Wednesday with a quality win over York.

It’s still a long shot for the Bulldogs to make the playoffs, which takes the top eight teams. They have a difficult week coming up with a home game against Tabor and road game against Friends.

But in the final 2 weeks, the Bulldogs play three of their final four at home.

The Bulldogs have been in this position before. If you harken back to the 2013 season, they were just 2-7 at the halfway point of the KCAC schedule (when the conference was still 10 teams and not the bloated 12 we now have), but made a fierce charge and on the last night they qualified as the 8th and final seed.

Then in the KCAC Tournament, the only avenue to make nationals, the Bulldogs went on an unforgettable three-game run to beat top-seed Saint Mary (in overtime), Friends (on a Kasey Miller buzzer-beater) and then Sterling in the championship game. At nationals, the Bulldogs had No. 1 overall seed William Penn on the ropes with a five-point halftime lead before losing. William Penn wound up taking second.

That season marked the last of four straight trips to nationals as the Mac program was the KCAC gold standard at that point.

Swartzendruber is still the same coach as he was when the Bulldogs had their bus on autopilot to Point Lookout, Mo., site of the national tournament. For whatever reason, things have just not clicked the last few seasons. The KCAC overall has gotten so much more competitive as schools are recruiting nation-wide and new gold standard Tabor even has gone to Granada for players.

This year’s Mac team has taken time to gel. There are four seniors, but a wealth of underclassmen for a good mix. Swartzendruber tried several combinations, but seemingly has settled on a pat lineup, while his bench will match up with any in the KCAC. In Wednesday’s victory over Bethel, the Bulldogs were a plus-23 off the bench.

The Bulldogs desperately need a win Saturday as the next four games are against arguably best teams in the KCAC. But never say never, as the Bulldogs have proven in the past under Swartzendruber.