Mac men cagers have had no luck at all

By Steve Sell
December 13, 2017

I didn’t attend McPherson College’s men’s basketball game with York College on Tuesday at the Sport Center since the high school Bullpups were playing in Abilene.

I was receiving updated reports during the game and was encouraged when the Bulldogs were up as many as 22 points over a quality opponent. I thought, finally, Mac coach Tim Swartzendruber and his team was going to get over the hump and end their 10-game losing streak.

But the final text I received was York 103, McPherson College 98. My heart hurt.

The Bulldogs now have lost 11 in a row and are 1-12 overall, 0-8 in the KCAC. You might think by that record that this is a bad basketball team.

I call it a cursed team.

I have watched many Mac games this year. The storyline is much the same as the Bulldogs often stay with their opponent through much of the game, but every time it seems there’s one bad stretch where they simply get stuck on a number and can’t get off.

To show how close this team is, just look at the last three games. It was on the road at powerful Friends, where it had the lead and it was still tied with just under 3 minutes to go. But a 13-0 Falcon run was the dagger.

Last Saturday at home against Ottawa (another top-division team), the Bulldogs were again right there. The game was tied at 69-all when OU went on a 12-1 run to pull away.

I’m almost glad I wasn’t there to see the York game. The Bulldogs were up 29-8 early over a team that has received national votes and still led by 13 at the half. But again, they allowed a run at the end of the game to lose.

I really feel for Swartzendruber. I think back to his first five years at Mac, starting with his first year when he took a team with only two returning players and brought in enough talent to finish at .500.

That was followed by the most glorious four-year run in Mac history when it made an unprecedented four straight trips to the national tournament, getting as far as the Final Four on one occasion. The Bulldogs became a staple at the nationals and gave the KCAC creditability with their performances.

But since then the Bulldogs have struggled, finishing near the bottom of the KCAC each year. 

Swartzendruber is still the same coach. He hasn’t changed from the coach who led the Bulldogs to Point Lookout, Mo., year after year, when the bus was on automatic pilot in March. He still is an excellent Xs and Os coach and his team is prepared as any in the KCAC.

Swartzendruber thought the Bulldogs had a chance to be much better this year. He brought in a dazzling junior college point guard in Dorian Paige, who wowed everyone who saw him play during his visit. Lual Magot, a springy 6-5 transfer, was going to be a rebounding machine. They were the jewels of the incoming class, expected to start from Day One.

But both have watched every single game from the bench. Paige had knee surgery and Magot was in a boot for weeks with a foot injury. They are to be evaluated at the first of the year and hopefully can play the second half of the season.

Then versatile Careino Gurley, who was having a fine year, suffered a shoulder injury. Done. He was the team’s heartbeat with his enthusiasm and could be counted on for double figures and great defense.

Brandon Carter, who at 6-5 and 240 pounds gave the Bulldogs muscle inside, left the team a couple of weeks ago. That’s four players who were expected to log heavy minutes who are not playing.

What’s left is a Bulldog team whose depth has been sapped by injuries and attrition. They don’t have a lot of size and lack the athleticism that was expected to be provided by Paige and Magot. Paige’s ability to drive and dish would have given senior standout Aaron Bachura wide-open looks, now he has to work like mad to get open off screens.

This is a team that still plays hard and never gives up when it falls behind. It’s not an easy out for any team it plays because the starting five is still competitive, it’s just that the bench has been weakened. Also, the lack of physicality in the paint is telling as the Bulldogs don’t get a lot of inside scoring.

I feel for Swartzendruber and the Bulldogs. With all the injuries, they have been dealt a bad hand. They are trying to make the most of it and hopefully they can find a way to avoid those dead periods and finish games off. If they do that, the wins will come.