2014 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
DECORAH—The Central College men’s basketball team clinched its 17th Iowa Conference championship outright with an 81-78 overtime win at Luther College and a 77-75 Dubuque loss at Buena Vista Wednesday night.
Guard Nile Eckermann (junior, Cosgrove, Clear Creek Amana HS) knocked down a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime and the Dutch (18-6 overall, 11-2 conference) rallied for the three-point win over the Norse (15-9 overall, 7-6 conference). The win combined with Dubuque’s loss assures Central, the team picked to finish last in the league preseason poll, the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
“It’s a compliment to the hard work put in this offseason,” coach Craig Douma said. “It’s a compliment to these seniors and our entire team. It’s also a tribute to our coaching staff. I’m pretty blessed. Joe Steinkamp, Bobby Quayle, Mark Holan and Justin Madsen all care deeply about this program and our student-athletes.
“It’s been a special season.”
It was not exactly a rookie performance by forward Colby Taylor (freshman, Creston), who scored a career-high 24 points and hauled in a career-high 12 rebounds, leading all players in both categories. He also chipped in two assists, two steals and one blocked shot in 38 minutes. Taylor connected on Central’s lone overtime 3-pointer to put the Dutch up four points with less than two minutes to play.
“Colby came to play,” said Douma. “He made some big plays around the basket. His 3-pointer in overtime was huge. We felt we had a mismatch, so we ran a lot of plays his way and he was great.”
Guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) delivered yet another stellar performance in his final campaign, scoring 21 points on a mere 13 shots. He tallied three rebounds and three dimes as well. And he did it all at less than 100 percent.
“Kevin carried us throughout the game,” Douma said. “He hit shot after shot. He kept hitting shots and getting to the rim, putting pressure on the defense. He was able to come up big despite feeling a bit under the weather.”
But without Eckermann’s late-game heroics, it all would have been for naught.
“Nile has hit some big shots this year and he hit one again tonight,” said Douma. “It was a huge shot and exactly how we drew it up. He said it felt good when it left his hand and it was.”
It was a tale of two halves as Central and Luther struggled to defend in the first half, but struggled to score in the second. The Dutch scored 41 points on 53.1 percent (17-of-32) shooting in the opening frame, while the Norse scored 45 on 50.0 percent (14-of-28), including 58.3 percent (7-of-12) from 3-point range. Central’s point total dipped to 28 on 34.5 percent (10-of-29) shooting in the second, while Luther scored 24 on 40.0 percent (10-of-25).
The Dutch made only six 3-pointers in the game compared to 11 for the Norse, but Eckermann made the one that mattered most.
“It wasn’t our best performance, but we found a way again,” Douma said. “We just keep finding ways to win.”
Central held a 41-36 advantage on the glass, thanks in part to Taylor’s big game. Forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) also hauled in double-digit boards with 11 and chipped in nine points, a rather quiet game for the three-time league player of the week.
According to Douma, that’s what this team is all about.
“Different players step up and make plays every night and it doesn’t matter who,” said Douma. “Great teams play great team basketball. And there’s nothing selfish about this team.”
Douma also cited the minutes played by guard Fred Pratt (senior, Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS) and forwards Yaw Sapon-Amoah (senior, Ghana, Africa, Des Moines Christian HS), Kyle Newendorp (junior, Pella) and Ryan Kunkel (freshman, Solon) and center Spencer Bakerink (senior, Creston).
Pratt scored seven points, while Newendorp and Yaw netted four and two, respectively. Newendorp also added three rebounds, while Yaw snagged two and added one blocked shot.
But Douma said the credit goes to more than just the players on the floor.
“Our whole team, varsity and junior varsity alike, deserves the credit,” Douma said. “We face one of the toughest defensive teams in the conference when we practice. We get better each and every day because of their effort.
“It’s also a tribute to (former head coach) Mike Boschee. This senior class says a lot about his legacy and the legacy of the 2010 championship team.”
Jake Martin led the Norse with 20 points and eight rebounds, while John Androus and Cale Austin joined him in double figures with 19 and 12 points, respectively.
The Dutch return home for their regular season finale against Wartburg College (12-12 overall, 6-7 conference) Saturday. Central has the chance to win its 10th consecutive league game, which would match the season-ending streak by the 2009-10 Iowa Conference championship team. The Dutch topped the Knights 74-63 behind 22 points from Greenfield in this season’s Jan. 15 meeting at Waverly.
“We want to bring the conference championship home and finish it right,” said Douma. “We want to win the last game of the regular season. We’re prepared, focused and we’re going to play hard. It’s going to be a fun day.”
Tip is scheduled for 4 p.m. inside P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium.