Everything that Sterling College’s Zach Poole touched Monday night turned to three.
Poole, averaging all of 5.9 points going into the KCAC Postseason Tournament championship game against McPherson College, buried six 3-balls, including four in a row in the second half to spark a Sterling explosion, as the Warriors came away with a 77-62 victory at energy-charged Hartman Arena.
The triumph gave Sterling a sweep of the KCAC regular-season and tournament titles and improved its record to 21-10.
But the Bulldogs parachuted out of the game with a nice consolation prize -- their second straight trip to nationals. Since Sterling won both titles, the Bulldogs are the automatic second qualifier by finishing second in the KCAC during the regular season.
Mac will be joining Sterling in Point Lookout, Mo., next week for the national tournament with a 19-13 record.
The teams played to a 31-all standoff for the first 20 minutes, with Samson Shivers’ basket at the buzzer tying the game for the Bulldogs.
But the Warriors came out white-hot in the second half, draining six 3-pointers to key a 24-7 sizz. Four of them were by Poole, who finished the night 6 of 8. He scored 22 points to augment the 25 scored by KCAC Player of the Year Zach Goodrich, who himself knocked down four 3-pointers.
“They shot extremely well in the second half,” Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber said. “Give them credit. They made shots and we didn’t.”
Sterling’s lights-out shooting -- 12 of 18 in the second half including 7 of 12 from beyond the arc -- also had an effect on the Mac offense. Since the game got away from the Bulldogs so quickly, they basically resorted to launching 3-pointers. Mac was 22 of 60 for the game, an ego-sapping 6 of 31 from 3-point.
“We felt like we were settling for the first open 3-pointer, rather than trying to break them down defensively to get a better shot,” Swartzendruber said.
Mason Hewitt was the lone Bulldog in double figures with 10 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that helped Mac slice what had been a 22-point lead to 12, 71-59. But it was far too little, far too late.
“I just think you have to give Sterling credit. They were the better team tonight,” Swartzendruber said. “We’re very excited to be going to nationals again. It’s just a tremendous experience and an honor for our team to go, considering where we were at one time in the season (8-11, 2-6 in the KCAC).”
Mac (62) -- Reinhardt 2 0-0 4; J. Crawford 3 3-4 9; Frazier 3 3-4 9; Severs 3 3-4 9; Shivers 3 1-2 9; Jackson 3 0-0 7; Hewitt 4 0-0 10; C. Crawford 1 2-5 5. Totals -- 22 12-19 62. 3-pointers -- Shivers 2, Hewitt 2, Jackson 1, C. Crawford 1.
Sterling (77) -- Brazelton 3 1-2 7; McGrath 3 2-4 8; Goodrich 6 9-10 25; Stutzman 1 2-2 4; Poole 7 2-3 22; Ferro 1 0-0 2; Odomes 1 2-6 4; Alexander 0 5-8 5; Brown 0 0-2 0. Totals -- 22 23-37 77. 3-pointers -- Poole 6, Goodrich 4.