STERLING — McPherson College’s “Drive For Five” is officially over.
After qualifying for the NAIA National Tournament a KCAC-record four years in a row, the Bulldogs won’t be making a fifth straight appearance as their season ended Thursday night with an 82-68 loss to Sterling in the first round of the KCAC Postseason Tournament.
The Bulldogs advanced to nationals last year as a No. 8 KCAC seed and were hoping to recreate the magic as a No. 7 seed, but Sterling’s blazing 3-point shooting was simply too much to overcome as Mac ended the year 15-16.
“They live and die by the 3 and tonight they shot it well,” said Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber, whose team had made nationals every year but one since he took over. “I thought the thing for us was that we didn’t shoot it well. Sterling is an experienced team, a very, very good team. Tonight they shot it well.”
The game actually swung in the first half when the Warriors made three straight 3s after the game had been tied at 13-all. It seemed like the Bulldogs were swimming upstream the rest of the way.
“When they made those three 3s in row and we got down nine, we never recovered,” Swartzendruber said. “Give Sterling credit. They kept burying 3s.”
The Warriors were 8 of 15 from beyond the arc in the first half, but none bigger than Darius Alexander’s buzzer-beating bomb that pushed the lead out to 36-29. They were just as steady in the second half by making 7 of 14 and six different players drained a 3-ball.
Mac started the second half with a brief flurry and pulled within three, but three more treys in a two-minute stretch opened up some breathing room again. It was a double-digit game the final nine minutes.
T.J. Grant scored 23 points and did his best to keep Mac in it. He also had six rebounds despite being the smallest player on the floor and dished for three assists.
Samson Shivers, in his final game as a Bulldog as he leaves the school as its all-time leading scorer, finished with 20.
Sterling countered with a balanced attack, led by Braden Thompson with 19 points. Alexander scored 15, Jamal Green came up with 13 off the bench and Matt Swank furnished 10 Eddie Adesodun, who burned Mac for 34 in the last meeting, was held to eight.
Swartzendruber admitted he had gotten used to going to Point Lookout, Mo., for the national tournament and all the pomp and circumstance that went with it.
“I told my daughter (Taylor) after the game it’s going to be weird not going back to Branson or Point Lookout,” he said. “Again, I felt we played our best at the end.”
Swartzendruber must now replace Shivers, Devirous Johnson (who had 11 rebounds in the game), Erik DeRoo and D’onte Woods.
“Recruiting is huge. Obviously we’ve got to bring in a few key guys,” he said.
Mac (68) — Grant 23, D. Johnson 6, Berry 2, DeRoo 5, Shivers 20, Henson 8, Woods 3, B. Johnson 1.
Sterling (82) — Adesodun 8, Alexander 15, Oyatayo 2, Green 13, Thompson 19, Givens 6, Swank 10, Ray 2, Dower 4, Smith 1, Starks 2.
• KCAC TOURNEY •
• First Round •
Friends 55, Southwestern 52
Tabor 74, Saint Mary 66
Bethany 92, Ottawa 86
Sterling 82, McPherson College 68
• Semifinals •
Tabor at Friends
Bethany at Sterling
• Finals •
Monday at Hartman Arena