LEAVENWORTH — It was the call that forever changed the rest of the game.
With McPherson College and Saint Mary tied at 58-all Saturday with 11:53 remaining, there was a play involving Mac’s Brian Johnson and Saint Mary superstar Grant Greenberg.
If it went against Johnson, it was the defensive ace’s fourth foul. If it went against Greenberg and the home team, it would force one of the nation’s top scorers to the bench with his fourth.
The call went Saint Mary’s way.
Game, set and match.
The Spires and Greenberg immediately took off on a 21-6 run that decided the game as they outscored the Bulldogs, 93-80.
“That (the call, which was highly questionable) really hurt us,” said Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber, whose team is now 1-1 in the KCAC and 7-5 overall. “When Brian goes out of the game, he makes a huge difference for us in our team. I think we had the right game plan. Grant Greenberg was not a factor (at the time) and we had them in foul trouble. We missed a lot of easy shots, that’s what really hurt us. We missed free throws, but we were in the game, we were right there. After Brian got in foul trouble, we just didn’t do a very good job defensively of stopping them.”
Johnson had lived inside of Greenberg’s jersey until the fourth foul. The Spire stud came into the game averaging 29 points, but had only four in the first half and 11 when Johnson went out.
But immediately, he took the game over and finished with 23, including 10 of 10 at the foul line where none of his attempts even hit the rim, they were all net. Amazingly for the year, he’s shot 124 free throws in nine games and made 114 for a Steve Henson-like 92 percent.
The Bulldogs did a lot of good things offensively. Devirous Johnson had his way inside with 22 points and 12 rebounds, but missed some easy shots late due to fatigue. Joey Powers also had a big night in the paint with 19 points, Samson Shivers added 16 and Brian Johnson scored 10 and dished off for seven assists before fouling out with 5 minutes to go.
Again, the Mac bench didn’t deliver much, which is a concern to Swartzendruber. T.J. Grant did score nine points, but there were just four other points from the reserves, which can’t happen against a team that plays at breakneck speed like the Spires.
Jerry Sipple more than doubled his season average with 22 points to back Greenberg. Sipple seemingly had no conscious with some of his shot selection, yet drained 5 of 11 from beyond arc, where the Spires were a lights-out 14 of 28 compared to 3 of 15 for the Bulldogs — a difference of 33 points.
Mac did win the rebound battle 40-35, as Powers and Brian Johnson followed Devirous Johnson by adding nine apiece. But Saint Mary had only 13 turnovers and shot 53 percent, a combination that produces a winner more often that not.
Mac now returns home for probably the most important week of the year in terms of the KCAC race. It hosts Sterling on Thursday and Friends on Saturday, teams picked to finish ahead of the Bulldogs.
Mac (80) — Powers 19, D. Johnson 22, Shivers 16, Johnson 10, Grant 9, DeRoo 2, Bevan 2.
Saint Mary (93) — Roaf 2, Sipple 22, Dowdy 17, Young 7, Greenberg 23, Akakpo 9, Snell 9, Hicks 4.