Tony Romero isn’t concerned with style points.
All that matters is that his Central Christian College men’s basketball team has played three games and won them all.
The third straight for the Tigers came on Wednesday as they charged down the stretch to outlast intracity rival McPherson College 56-53 before a boisterous and packed Sport Center crowd.
“Great defense on both sides,” said Romero, whose team takes back the mythical Mayor’s Cup as Mac won last year at Alexander Arena. “We know each other so well. Obviously they watch us and we watch them. It’s always going to come down to someone making one play at the end.”
It wasn’t one play, but several by CCC’s Cameron Martin that turned the game in the Tigers’ favor.
His 3-pointer with 2:51 left tied the game at 51-all and then he came up with a steal and threw a lob pass to Jubril Osagie for a rim-rattling dunk to give Central a 53-51 lead. He then buried a jumper with 56 seconds left to make it 55-51 and the Tigers were able to hold off the Bulldogs, who actually had the ball with 15 seconds to go and down two, but never got a shot to tie or take the lead as they turned it over. Martin finished off his performance by making a free throw with 1.5 seconds left for the final margin.
“Cameron has been due,” Romero said. “He’s a great player, but he’s not shot it well. He’s trying to figure out how we want things done. He had some bad turnovers in the first half, but he’s a senior and he’s a very experienced guard. And he made some big plays.”
The Bulldogs led 21-13, but as has been their wont they got stuck in an offensive rut. Central closed the half on a 14-5 sizz to lead 27-26. The Tigers’ bench came up with with 14 points. “That was a key for us,” Romero said. “We closed that first half well to take the lead.”
Little separated the teams in the second half. Grant Raleigh’s basket with 10:20 to go gave Mac a lead that it held until Martin drained his 3-pointer with 2:51 to go to tie it.
Romero admits it hasn’t been totally pleasing to the eye, but he likes his team’s toughness.
“It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it all counts,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys, they gutted it out on the road against a great program. Tim (Mac coach Swartzendruber) does a great job with these guys and they’re better than their record indicates.”
For Mac, the loss dropped it to 1-3 and in every game it has had the lead in the second half at some point.
“I think the biggest disappointment for us is that we’ve lost two close games here on our home court and we’ve had every opportunity,” Swartzendruber said. “Tonight one of the big keys was rebounding. We outrebounded them and they only had 9 offensive boards. I thought we did a great job on the glass.”
Swartzedruber said his team’s turnovers (17) and rare struggles at the foul line (6 of 12) probably cost his team the win.
Martin led all scorers with 16 points and Osagie scored 13 as he again battled foul trouble. Fred Watts Jr. continued his strong early season play as the freshman led Mac with 11 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double. Raleigh scored 10 and the Tigers did a great defensive job on Mac’s Aaron Bachura, holding him to 8.
Central has a huge game at home on Saturday taking on Oklahoma Wesleyan at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs, ironically, also play Oklahoma Wesleyan in their next game as they open KCAC play against the Eagles here next Wednesday.
Central (56) — Warren 3, Osagie 13, Martin 16, Lenard 3, Ard II 3, Arnada 5, Williams 8, Kuminga 5.
Mac (53) — Gurley 9, Watts 11, Owen 3, Bachura 8, Raleigh 10, Oxford 2, Parker 6, Carter 4.