Central Christian College and McPherson College simply can’t play a bad men’s basketball game.
I could watch these teams play 25 times a year. You know what you’re going to get every time out — two teams that play tremendously hard and down to the wire.
Wednesday’s installment of the mythical Mayor’s Cup (that’s what retired McPherson College coach Roger Trimmell used to call it) produced the customary thrills that played out before a rollicking Sport Center crowd.
Both Central and Mac students turned out in droves, separated by just one aisle. I found some of the chants and cheers amusing and the place was close to full.
Central, 23-9 last year, is in somewhat of rebuilding mode. You just don’t replace Michael Gholston, Daniel Nwosuh, Sam Clayborn and Ernest Burton overnight. That’s a once-in-a-decade senior class.
CCC’s wildly successful coach Tony Romero (who averages just a tick under 20 wins a season) is retooling on the fly. He has an outrageously gifted big man in Jubril Osagie and Kendric Warren seemingly has been around forever.
Romero has had to take some of his backups from last year and mix them in with a talented class of newcomers, who are still trying to learn to play the Tiger way.
Central is 3-0 and all three wins have been grind-it-out, blue-collar specials. The Tigers couldn’t throw it in the ocean when I saw them in their season opener against Kansas Wesleyan, then couldn’t guard anybody in outlasting Barclay.
Against Mac, the Tigers were again struggling offensively, but their intense defense kept them in the game. They weathered an early eight-point deficit as the Bulldogs had the game at the pace they wanted.
Central, behind its youthful bench, stormed back and wound up going ahead by 1 at the break, with the reserves scoring more than half the points.
Mac possessed the lead much of the second half, but the last 3 minutes belonged to new Tiger guard Cameron Martin. A senior transfer, something you very seldom see, the super smooth Martin scored 6 points in those 180 seconds, came up with a clutch steal and threw a lob to Osagie, who threw it down with ferocity.
The Bulldogs, playing with a short deck due to a spate of injuries, actually had a chance to tie or win on their last possession. But they never got off a shot as they turned it over.
Mac is now 1-3, but could easily be 4-0. Their three losses have been difficult for veteran coach Tim Swartzendruber to stomach as they let a 17-point second-half lead get away to Manhattan Christian, had Hastings College down at the half and then led Central for much of the game.
The Bulldogs’ main problem, and this was the case last year, is that they get stuck in offensive droughts. Last night’s started when they reached 21 as they scored only 5 points in the last 6 minutes of the first half.
Mac, I believe, can be a good basketball team when they welcome back heralded recruits Dorian Page and Lual Magot from the injury list, along with steady Grant Munsen, who was so impressive last year as a freshman. He played all of 5 minutes in the opener before going down with a bad ankle sprain.
Page and Magot will probably be out a while as Page had minor knee surgery and Magot has a foot injury. I don’t think we’ll see the true Bulldog team until after Christmas.
For now, they are just trying to stay afloat. It doesn’t help that KCAC play ridiculously starts next week (22 conference games, are you kidding me?). The Bulldogs play eight conference games before Christmas. Hopefully they can stay within shouting distance of the KCAC leaders.