Senior Joe Wachter brings the ball past half court during the second half.
Artwork by Pat Howell.
After splitting the regular season series, the Baker University men’s basketball team dropped the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament Championship game 75-68 to MidAmerica Nazarene University Monday in Olathe.
BU trailed 12-4 in the opening minutes, but the Wildcats weathered the storm and kept MNU from running away with the game early on.
“We had some good looks and shots weren’t falling for us,” junior Ben Steinlage said. “(Head) coach (Brett Ballard) always says that we need to get stops in times like that.”
The Wildcats got the stops and put together a 17-9 run to tie the game at 21-21, but MNU’s Rustin Dowd hit two of his three first half 3-pointers after BU came even to help give the Pioneers a 32-28 halftime lead.
Baker came out of the break to tie the game again at 34-34, but MidAmerica responded again by going on a 11-3 run to go up 45-37.
The ‘Cats clawed back to with in one point to trim the Pioneers’ advantage to 47-46 when Ben Steinlage drew MNU’s sixth team foul just before the halfway mark of the half, but the physical play was just beginning.
The Pioneers led 58-53 with just under seven minutes to go when MNU’s Luke Thomas committed an intentional foul on junior Samer Jassar. After Baker and MidAmerica Nazarene came up empty on their ensuing possessions, Jassar was knocked to the floor, but play continued until junior Corey Anderson was fouled seconds later with 5:41 left.
“I thought the game was pretty physical,” junior Baba Diallo said. “Late in the game, people started to get hurt. We got pretty physical, so the (referees) started calling it tight.”
While Jassar received medical treatment, the officials checked the instant replay, but no additional fouls were called other than the foul on the Pioneers’ Jacob French that sent Anderson to the line.
“There were some breaks there that were long,” Ballard said. “You know, I thought it hurt us a little bit because we had a little more depth than they did to be quite honest.”
The Wildcats would make another surge to cut MNU’s lead to 60-59 near the four minute mark, but that would be as close as BU would get.
MidAmerica Nazarene closed the game with a 15-9 spurt to win the game and tournament.
Although the outcome of the game is not what Baker was hoping for, Ballard thinks the game will help the team in the NAIA National Tournament, and for next year as well.
“You know, in the locker room I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a tough deal to watch the other team get the trophy,’ and I get it,” Ballard said. “I said, ‘hopefully that will stick in the back of your minds in the offseason when we are preparing,’ and motivate some of our guys ... It’s and exciting week ahead for us. It’s a great opportunity to go compete in the national tournament.”
The national tournament starts March 14 in Kansas City, Mo., but the Wildcats’ opponent is to be determined.
“I think everybody is hungry,” Diallo said. “Everyone just has a sour taste in their mouth. We just want to take it out on our next opponent.”