2016 NCAA Div. III tournament qualifier
PELLA—It felt like a track meet inside P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium Wednesday night as the resilient Central College men’s basketball team outpaced Iowa Conference foe Buena Vista University 92-78.
The win, combined with Loras College's 71-70 upset at the University of Dubuque, vaults the Dutch into a tie for first place in the conference standings, and sets up a Saturday showdown against the No. 23-ranked Spartans (20-2 overall, 9-2 conference).
After racing out to a 20-point halftime lead, the Dutch (16-6 overall, 9-2 conference) held off a spirited Beavers’ (11-11 overall, 6-5 conference) comeback for the double-digit win. Buena Vista opened the second half on a 17-0 run that spanned the first 4:09. Following six minutes of back-and-forth play, the Beavers took a 65-64 advantage, their first lead since the 14:04 mark in the first half. Central responded with a 12-0 run and led by at least 10 points the rest of the way.
“That’s the mark of a great team,” coach Craig Douma said. “Buena Vista deserves a lot of credit. They came out with a lot of fire in the second half and made a run. We were a little passive, but we showed a lot of toughness, stopped the run and found a way to win.
“I can’t say enough about our team.”
It was raining 3-pointers early as the Dutch (16-6 overall, 9-2 conference) made 13-of-21 (61.9 percent) from behind the arc and shot 60.6 percent (20-of-33) from the field overall in the first 20 minutes. The 13 made 3-pointers tie the school record for triples made in a single half, dating back to Dec. 21, 1990, when Central converted on 13-of-20 in the second half of a 127-122 overtime loss at Hope College (Mich.).
“That’s the way the shots were falling,” said Douma. “We didn’t want to have to hit 3-pointers to win tonight, but we did a great job having our feet ready and finding the open man.”
And the Dutch did all of that while holding the Beavers to 37 points in the opening frame.
“We came to play in the first half,” Douma said. “Our defense was great and we scored a lot of transition baskets because of it. We shared the ball well and hit shots. We couldn’t execute much better than we did on both ends of the floor.”
Forward Colby Taylor (freshman, Creston) led the long-range attack on 5-of-9 from behind the arc, while guard Nile Eckermann (junior, Cosgrove, Clear Creek Amana HS) was 4-of-8. Guard Kevin Kaerwer (senior, El Paso, Texas, John L. Chapin HS) chipped in three makes, while forward Matt Greenfield (senior, Huxley, Ballard HS) made two. Guard Fred Pratt (senior, Rosenberg, Texas, Lamar Consolidated HS) accounted for the remaining triple.
Greenfield and Taylor led the way with 24 and 22 points on 7-of-14 and 7-of-12 shooting, with Kaerwer not far behind with 21 on 6-of-13. Eckermann just missed out on the 20-point party, scoring 18 points on a mere nine shot attempts.
No Dutch trio had scored 20-plus points apiece in a single game in more than a decade prior to this season. And now it has happened twice. The first time was in an 88-74 win over Northwestern College (Iowa) Nov. 29, when Greenfield, Eckermann and Kaerwer scored 28, 25 and 20 points, respectively.
Wednesday, Greenfield filled the remainder of the stat sheet with nine rebounds and career-highs in blocked shots (6) and assists (5). Taylor’s 22 points top his previous career-best 21, which he scored Saturday at Coe College. He also added four boards, three steals and two assists.
“I don’t know how you pick out one individual player to highlight tonight,” Douma said. “It was a total team effort and a great win.”
As a team the Dutch finished 47.5 percent from the field (28-of-59), 45.5 percent from 3-point range (15-of-33) and converted on 21-of-24 free throw attempts. Central also held a 33-to-38 advantage on the glass against the best rebounding team in the league.
Forward Tyler Kastantin led Buena Vista with 20 points and four rebounds. Guards Michael Kaufmann and Cole Darrow joined Kastantin in double digits with 17 and 15 points.
Central is back on the road Saturday for its return trip to Dubuque and a pivotal battle for the conference lead. The Spartans escaped Pella with a 74-67 win after trailing by nine at halftime in the second league game of the season Jan. 11. Both Dubuque conference losses have come at the hands of Loras College.
“Dubuque is a great team,” said Douma. “It’ll be a hostile crowd, but a great college basketball environment. They’re coming off of a tough loss and they’re going to be hungry, but they have our full attention. We showed a lot of heart the first time we played and we need to be ready to play again Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity to make a statement on the road.”
Tip is set for 4 p.m. in Stoltz Sports Center in the women's-men's doubleheader, with the women's game starting at 2 p.m.