There was a time McPherson College’s men’s basketball team was 1-13 and losing players about as quickly as it was losing games.
Top recruits Lual Magot and Dorian Paige, who were expected to start and make major impacts, were injured during the preseason. Magot finally played on Jan. 6 against Bethel and Paige is redshirting so he can have two full years.
Careino Gurley, one of the team’s emotional leaders, was lost early in the season with shoulder surgery. Two key players left the team for personal reasons.
So veteran Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber was left with senior Aaron Bachura and a bunch of kids. Not a recipe for winning in the highly competitive KCAC.
But starting with a win over Bethel, the Bulldogs are 3-3 in their last six games, including a win over second-place Friends and then third-place Tabor. Add in a victory over Sterling and the Bulldogs have won their last three games at the Sport Center.
Two of the three losses came in overtime, 109-100 to Bethany after letting a 20-point halftime lead get away, and a 115-109 loss to KCAC leader and No. 6-ranked Southwestern in triple overtime at Winfield. The other loss was at Oklahoma Wesleyan, which arguably has the best collection of athletes in the KCAC.
Credit the steady hand of Swartzendruber. Even in the wake of not having or losing players, he’s thrown caution to the wind and sent out players who were expected to be reserves or junior varsity players.
They have matured quickly. While the Bulldogs are somewhat undersized and have a short bench, they are battling their tails off and right now are a team that nobody wants to play. Even in some of their losses, they have had healthy leads, but just couldn’t finish games out.
Now they are. They were up double digits against Friends, which would not have even been in the game had it not been for Falcon superman Jordan Murdock, who scored 29 of his 45 points in the second half. It’s always interesting to me how a player of Murdock’s immense talent slips through the cracks as he could easily be playing at a higher level. He’s 6-5 and generously listed at 240 pounds, but his agility is amazing and his range unlimited. He made some 3-pointers in the Trae Young range. But Mac held off his incredible one-man performance.
Bachura is the only Mac senior and he’s providing the leadership for these young pups. He recently was the KCAC Player of the Week and should be a cinch to make the All-Conference Team, though with Mac’s record he may get slighted.
Freshmen Fred Watts Jr. and Jeffrey Oxford are two of the best first-year players in the KCAC. Sophomore Garrett Owen takes care of the ballhandling and sophomore Grant Munsen is a defensive presence, not to mention he’s capable of double-digit offense when he stays out of foul trouble. Magot and Louis Parker III are providing a spark off the bench and Taylor Ellison is a designated 3-point shooter. Another freshman, Chamaje Barideaux, recently has seen his minutes go up and he’s being trusted more and more with important situations.
While it would take a miracle for the Bulldogs to make the playoffs — they would about have to win out to have a chance — it’s been fun to watch a team that plays so hard and leaves it all on the floor.
And that’s all that Swartzendruber can ask.