The young McPherson College men's basketball team has finally figured it out.
For the third straight home game, the Bulldogs — who start two freshmen and two sophomores — pulled off an upset and this may have been the biggest yet.
Mac held off a fierce rally by Friends University on Wednesday at the Sport Center, but hung on 91-89 to deal the Falcons a damaging loss.
Had the Falcons prevailed, they would have been alone in second place in the KCAC and just two games back of Southwestern, which also was upset on Wednesday by Kansas Wesleyan.
“Obviously I’m just thrilled that we got another win,” said Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber, whose team leapfrogged Bethany and into 11th place as it’s now 4-13 in the KCAC and 7-18 overall. “These last couple of weeks we’ve really come together as a team. We’re playing our best basketball and it’s exciting. It got a little shaky at the end. We held on and made some pressure free throws and finished the game.”
This was no fluke. The Bulldogs took an 11-10 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half and never gave it up. They moved up by 10 at the half, 41-31, and it remained double digits much of the second half before Friends’ Jordan Murdock went unconscious.
The junior guard, who is 6-5 and 240 pounds, was a matchup nightmare. After scoring 16 points in the first half, he went off for 29 in the second half to finish with 45. Swartzendruber could only shake his head as he tried everything he could defensively to shut down the probable KCAC Player of the Year. He finished 15 of 19 from the field, 6 of 8 from 3-point and 9 of 12 at the foul line. He also grabbed 13 rebounds.
“We thought — and I didn’t realize he had 45 — we could give up 30 to 35 to him and still win,” Swartzendruber said. “He darn near got us. He’s unbelievable. He’s so big and strong and he can just elevate over people. He’s got great range.”
But the Bulldogs’ balance overcame the one-man show. Aaron Bachura scored 22 points to lead Mac, while freshman Fred Watts was 7 of 8 from the field and the line for 21. Freshman Jeffrey Oxford tallied 13 points and Grant Munsen had 12.
Mac goes on the road Saturday to play Ottawa.
Mac (91) — Munsen 12, Watts 21, Owen 7, Bachura 22, Oxford 13, Magot 1, Ellison 3, Parker III 7, Barideaux 5.
Friends (89) — Garnes 8, Murdock 45, Cherne 11, Sloan 9, Fralin 12, Norris 2, Rogers 2.
• FRIENDS WOMEN 77, MAC 70 — The Bulldogs were playing without coach Gordon Reimer, who was missing due to illness.
But the Bulldogs fought tooth and nail for assistant coach RaShawn Calvert with an effort that on most nights would have been good enough to win, but KCAC-leading Friends now has won eight in a row and virtually clinched the conference championship.
“Definitely a great effort,” Calvert said. “We let up a couple of times and that’s when they went at us hard. I thought we handled their defense better this time. Last time we had 27 turnovers and we cut it to 19 this time. It came down to those crucial possessions late in the game.”
If the KCAC playoffs began today, the Bulldogs and Falcons would be matched. Given how competitive the Bulldogs have played the Falcons, Mac might be the team Friends doesn’t want to play.
The Falcons outlasted the Bulldogs 53-52 in Wichita and in Wednesday’s rematch, it was tied at 59-all with 4:18 remaining.
But Friends paraded to the foul line down the stretch, making 14 free throws and finishing the game a staggering 33 of 38.
The Bulldogs trailed 56-40 after three quarters, but lit into the stifling Friends defense for a 19-3 run to start the fourth quarter to tie it. But Friends was relentless in taking the ball to the basket, either scoring or being fouled. The Falcons made 21 of 24 free throws in the second half alone.
Betty Akathiotou came off the bench to drain 14 of 14 free throws and scored 28 points for Friends, whose bench players outscored the starters 46-31. Starters Makenzie Vining and Laramie Edens scored 13 and 10 points, respectively.
The Falcons won the game despite shooting 30 percent from the field.
Mac’s Sonerka White continued her recent surge with 22 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. Brooklyn Coe added 16 points and Cami Richardson had 10, along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Brittany Roberts climbed the boards to haul in 12 rebounds.
Mac dropped to 8-9 in the KCAC and now has just a two-game lead over surging Southwestern for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Bulldogs take a 12-12 overall record to Ottawa on Saturday.
Mac (70) — Roberts 8, White 22, Coe 16, Racette 5, Richardson 10, Holt 4, Battle 1, Zimmerman 4.
Friends (77) — Evans 3, Ellis 2, Edens 10, Vining 13, Quiroz 3, Akathioutou 28, Kelly 4, Anderson 3, Bouvia 2, Posey 9.