2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
PELLA—The Central College men’s basketball offense was in need of some answers against a physical Loras College defense Saturday.
And gritty point guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) delivered.
The Dutch saw a 12-point lead nearly evaporate in the final four minutes but got some clutch plays and a career-high 28 points from Kaerwer to hold off Loras, 76-74 at P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium. It’s the fourth straight win for the Dutch, now 13-6 overall and 6-2 in the Iowa Confererence, good for second place.
“Kevin just stepped up and made big plays,” coach Craig Douma said. “I was proud of him.”
Kaerwer was at his best down the stretch. After his 3-pointer put Central on top 69-57 with 3:46 remaining, Loras came charging back and an Alex Cline three cut the gap to 71-68 at the 1:13 mark. With the shot clock winding down on the Dutch, Kaerwer maneuvered for a well-defended 3-point shot. The shot went down and so did Kaerwer, drawing a foul and a chance at a four-point play. It would have been his second four-point play of the night but he missed the free throw, still leaving Central up 74-68 with 38 seconds left. Loras, which defeated Central Jan. 18 at Dubuque, 70-60, climbed to within 75-74 with eight seconds remaining before Kaerwer hit one of two free throws, forcing the Dutch to dodge a last-second 3-point attempt by Cline, which caromed off the rim at the buzzer.
“We had to hold our breath on that one,” Douma said. “But we had it pretty well-defended. (Nana Yaw Sapon-Amoah, senior, Ghana, Africa, Des Moines Christian HS) is our defensive closer and he did a good job of making sure it was not an easy three.”
Kaerwer was 10-of-17 from the field, hit four 3-point shots, passed out three assists and made two steals.
“Kevin realizes this is his senior year and he’s only got seven (regular-season) games left,” Douma said. “He’s having a good year because of what he did when no one was watching. No one was watching when he was working out all summer. No one was watching when he was shooting in the fieldhouse at 7 a.m. on Saturdays before football games in the fall. He really wanted it. And that’s a great example for our younger players.”
Forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) had 16 points and nine rebounds while guard Nile Eckermann (junior, Cosgrove, Clear Creek-Amana HS) added 12 points. Central shot 44.8 percent from the field to 42.9 percent for Loras (11-8 overall, 4-4 conference), while both teams had 36 rebounds.
Central took the lead less than two minutes into the game and never trailed again, yet couldn’t put the Duhawks away until the final buzzer. The Dutch roared to a 24-7 lead with 7:42 remaining in the first half, only to have Loras pull within 29-25 before Kaerwer went coast-to-coast in the final four seconds for a layup and a 31-25 advantage at the break.
“We kind of stopped attacking in the last part of the first half,” Douma said. “We weren’t getting to the rim. I challenged Kevin and Fred (Pratt, senior, Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS) a little bit at halftime. But in the second half, we executed very well. We just hung in there and found ways to score. That was the difference.”
There was no inconsistency in the Dutch defensive effort.
“We defended like crazy the whole game,” Douma said.
Meanwhile, Central committed just eight turnovers.
“We didn’t turn the ball over against a pressure defense,” Douma said. “You’ve got to do those things—defend, take care of the ball and execute on offense.”
The schedule takes a daunting turn for the Dutch, who must play five of the remaining league games on the road, starting with Wednesday’s women’s-men’s twinbill at Indianola against Simpson College, with the men’s game tipping off at 8 p.m. Central escaped the Storm in overtime, 84-83, in Pella Jan. 22. Simpson is 3-16 overall record and 1-7 in league play after a 79-61 setback at Luther College Saturday.
“To me, Simpson is one of the most talented teams in the league,” Douma said. “They’ve got a lot of offensive weapons and a lot of athleticism. We barely got past them at home.”
A road game at Coe College Saturday follows.
“These next two road games are going to be huge for us,” Douma said. “We can’t control what the other teams in the league are doing, we can only control what we’re doing. We’ve got to keep defending, rebound and execute, and just keep riding that high.”