2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
PELLA—This time, a spirited Central College men’s basketball comeback wasn’t enough.
Down 35-20 at intermission, down 12 with 6:30 remaining and still trailing by six with less than 30 seconds left, the short-handed Dutch crawled within one and had a chance for the win before Simpson College escaped 73-69 Saturday.
That knocks Central (10-14 overall, 3-11 Iowa Conference) out of the final spot in the six-team league tournament and ends the season, snapping a six-year string of tourney appearances.
Wednesday night, Central had stormed back from a 10-point deficit midway through the second half and scored a 71-68 win over Loras College.
An even more dramatic resurgence got the P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium crowd going Saturday. A traditional 3-point play by senior guard KJ Cool (Chillicothe, Mo., Newtown Harris R-3 HS) cut the deficit to 70-67 with 20 seconds remaining. The Dutch forced a 5-second call on the inbound play and guard Branden Stubbs (junior, Pleasant Hill, Des Moines Christian HS) was fouled and knocked down two free throws to make it 70-69. After a quick foul, Simpson converted one of two free throws, giving Central the ball down two with 14 seconds left, but the Dutch failed to get a shot off, losing the ball on a charging call.
“Obviously we’d like to have the first half over again,” coach Craig Douma said. “If we had shot the ball the way we did in the second half, we would have won the game.”
Central hit just 26.5 percent from the floor in the first half, including just 1-of-10 from 3-point range. The Dutch shot 46.2 percent in the second half and were 6-of-13 on 3-point shots. The undersized squad managed a 40-35 rebounding advantage but made 17 turnovers.
Guard Nick Marinkovich (senior, Clarendon Hills, Ill., Hinsdale Central HS) had 21 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in his final collegiate outing. Forward Matt Greenfield (junior, Huxley, Ballard HS) had 13 points, nine rebounds, two assists and four blocks. Stubbs had 10 points and three assists.
The Dutch were again without all-conference forward Jacob Winkler (senior, Lancaster, Mo., Schuyler R-1 HS), the team’s leading scorer, and his absence was clearly felt on an already thin front line. Winkler was injured in practice Tuesday and could only watch from the bench in his final two collegiate games.
“I felt awful for Jake,” Douma said. “I really thought we’d have another game for him next week. It was tough for him to sit there, knowing he could have helped. But I appreciated the leadership he showed from the bench. He was doing a lot of coaching.
“He was playing so well. He was playing his best basketball of the season the last couple weeks. You have to cherish every moment you have on the floor, and he did.”
It was the final collegiate contest for Winkler, Marinkovich, Cool, forward Andy Waugh (Earlham), forward Eric Scott (Adel, ADM HS) and guard Jordan Cruse (Mason City).While the season didn’t go the way they’d anticipated, Douma was impressed with their resiliency.
“If there’s anything we can take away from this year, it’s the never-give-up attitude of these seniors,” Douma said. “The thing I really appreciate is that they never once gave up, even in practice. If we’d lose a few in a row, they would just come back and practice harder. You can’t fault the effort they gave.”
Douma is still working feverishly as well, as his first season at Central closes, and he’s determined to ensure that better days are ahead for Dutch basketball.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We’ve got some guys coming up who’ve got good energy and can put the ball in the basket. Our juniors are ready to step up and continue the great leadership we got from our seniors this year. And we’re hoping to bring in some great players.”