2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
PELLA—It was the kind of comeback that propelled Central College to its 17th Iowa Conference men’s basketball title.
Erasing a 13-point second-half deficit against Wartburg College Saturday, the Dutch were poised to pull out yet another dramatic win. But this time, Central faltered and saw its nine-game winning streak end in an 86-83 overtime setback.
Having already clinched the outright crown with an 81-78 overtime win at Luther College Wednesday, it was a game the Dutch (18-7 overall, 11-3 conference) didn’t have to win. But it was one they didn’t want to lose. There was no intent of coasting into next week’s six-team league tournament.
“That’s not the approach we took,” coach Craig Douma said. “You always want to win your last one (in the regular season). Now we’ve just got to move on and get the next one in the tournament.”
The next one will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium. The contest will be broadcast on KRLS-FM (92.1) and via www.kniakrls.com. There will also be a videostream and live stats available through www.central.edu/athletics. Central, the top seed, will face the winner of a Tuesday matchup at Storm Lake between the No. 4 seed, Buena Vista (13-12 overall, 8-6 conference), and No. 5 seed Wartburg (13-12 overall, 7-7 conference). Buena Vista was a 99-71 victor over Simpson College at Storm Lake Saturday.
On the other side of the bracket, second-seeded Dubuque (10-4 conference) will face the winner of a Tuesday contest at Dubuque between No. 3-seeded Loras (8-6 conference) and No. 6-seeded Luther (7-7 conference).
Thursday’s winners play for the tourney title next Saturday, at the site of the higher remaining seed.
Wartburg secured its tourney position by outshooting Central. The Knights hit 52 percent from the field in the first half, including 50 percent (6-12) from long range, in racing to a 44-36 lead at the break. Wartburg increased its cushion to 13 points in the second half and was still up 62-52 with 10:38 remaining, when the Dutch made one of their trademark surges, finally grabbing their first lead, 73-72, on 3-pointer by forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) with 2:01 left. Wartburg, playing for the last shot with the score knotted 74-74, saw a win on a lay-in at the buzzer hesitate on the rim, then roll out to send the game into overtime.
Back-to-back 3-pointers on the baseline by freshman forward Colby Taylor (Creston) put Central up 80-78 with 3:01 left in the extra period, and got a big Senior Day crowd going. But the Dutch then watched Wartburg go on a 7-0 run and didn’t score again until Greenfield drained a desperation 3-pointer with six seconds left. A missed Wartburg free throw with three seconds remaining gave Central a flicker of hope, but Greenfield had to settle for an errant halfcourt attempt at the buzzer.
Douma was quick to credit Wartburg and senior center Eddie Diemer, who had 23 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
“Wartburg’s an excellent team,” he said. “They swept Loras and were coming off a big road win at Coe. They’re playing well right now and are very capable. Hats off to them. They hit shots.”
The Knights also profited at the free throw line, knocking down 20 of 30 attempts to Central’s 9-of-13. Wartburg had a 41-39 rebounding advantage as well.
Greenfield, despite an uncharacteristically slow start, notched his 11th double-double of the year, with a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds, along with three steals. That upped his career scoring total to 964 points. Taylor continued his increasingly promising rookie campaign with 22 points, nine boards and five assists, while guard Nile Eckermann (Cosgrove, Clear Creek-Amana HS) had 11 points and six assists. Point guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) also had six assists.
“I was really proud of the guys,” Douma said. “Coming back from 10, 13 points down, they showed a lot of resilience. We had opportunities, we just missed shots down the stretch. We’ve won our share of games like that, so we can’t complain. But it would have been a lot more fun to win this one.”
It was Senior Day, but Douma also singled out a pair of freshmen, Taylor and 6-foot-7 forward Ryan Kunkel (Solon).
“I thought Colby Taylor stepped up and made some big plays with 3-pointers and putbacks,” he said.
Kunkel was making just his fifth varsity appearance, but played 14 pivotal minutes in the second half.
“We just felt putting Ryan on Diemer was our best option,” Douma said. “We had been struggling to get stops on him. But Ryan used his length and did a good job.”
Meanwhile the Dutch offense lacked its usual energy, particularly in the first half.
“We weren’t attacking the rim,” Douma said.
Five Central players made their final regular-season collegiate appearance and were in the starting lineup: Greenfield, Kaerwer, guard Fred Pratt (Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS), forward Nana Yaw Sapon-Amoah (Ghana, Africa, Des Moines Christian HS) and center Spencer Bakerink (Creston).
Central’s winning streak ended one game shy of matching the 10-game string reeled off by the Dutch in their 2009-10 league championship season. But they can start another on Thursday. Douma notes Central hasn’t dropped back-to-back games all season.
“We’ve talked all year about not compounding losses,” Douma said. “We have (the players’) attention. We’ll work hard this week and come out ready to go.”