The McPherson College men's basketball team has been snake bit all season at the Sport Center. Their misfortune on their home floor continued on Saturday night as they squandered a double-digit lead in the second half and wound up falling to the Ottawa University Braves in overtime, 104-103.
Everything seemed to be working for the Bulldogs in the opening half of play. They got off to a good start on both ends of the floor. They didn't have any major scoring droughts in the first half, and on defense, they held the Braves' leading scorer, Isaiah Palmer, to just five points. All off that translated into a five point lead, 44-39, for the Bulldogs at the break.
Things continued to go well for the Bulldogs in the second frame. They extended their lead out to double-digits at the midway point of the half, and with just under seven minutes to play, had their largest lead of the game, 16 points, 76-60. The Braves began to chip away at the Bulldog lead, but with three minutes remaining in regulation McPherson still led by 10, 85-75. This is where the wheels started to fall off for the Bulldogs. Over the final three minutes of play, the Bulldogs saw their 10-point lead evaporate thanks in large part to five turnovers, and timely three point shooting by the Braves.
After the Braves split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 90 with 13 ticks remaining on the clock, the Bulldogs had one more chance to win the game in regulation. Josh Rivers. who hit a last second three pointer to win the game at Tabor a few weeks ago, got a good look at a 15-footer as time was winding down, but it came up a little short, and the game headed into overtime.
The overtime session went back-and-forth. The Braves led by as many as four in the period, while the Bulldogs led only once, 97-96, with 1:28 remaining. The Bulldogs trailed by four, 103-99 when Taylor Ellison was fouled on a three-point attempt. He made two of three to cut the Braves' lead in half. On the Braves' next possession, they went 1-for-2 from the free throw line to push the lead back up to three, 104-101, with 11 seconds to play. The Braves elected to foul instead of giving the Bulldogs a chance at a three-pointer to tie the game. Careino Gurley made both free throws to cut the lead to one, with just five seconds on the clock.
After a timeout, the Braves inbounded the ball, but a defensive breakdown by the Bulldogs allowed an Ottawa player to slip into the front court unguarded. His teammate lofted the ball to him before the Bulldogs were able to foul, and he was able to dribble out the final five seconds.
Frederick Watts II had a big night offensively off the bench. He led the team in scoring with 21 points, in 23 minutes of action. Also in double figures was Rivers with 19, and Gurley, who had a season high 17 points.
"This was a tough one", commented Bulldog head coach, Tim Swartzendruber. "We finally got off to a great start and didn't finish. We shot well and were great defensively for 30 minutes. Unfortunately we didn't handle the pressure at the end. and we missed key free throws."
The loss drops the Bulldogs to 10-17 overall, and 6-16 in the KCAC. It also eliminates them from the chance of making it into the KCAC tournament at the end of the season. They will play their final two games of the season next week, Monday on the road at St. Mary, and then home for Senior night next Saturday against Bethel College.