A special game for Nate Michael led to a very special day for legendary McKendree coach Harry Statham.
Michael, a freshman guard from St. Joseph-Ogden High School, poured in a career-high 40 points to lead the Bearcats to a 92-84 win over the Maryville Saints on Saturday at Moloney Arena. It was a victory that earned Statham his 1,099th career win, breaking a tie with former Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt for the most victories by a college basketball coach at a four-year school.
In their two previous attempts to earn Statham the record, the Bearcats had fallen short dropping games against Lewis (87-79 on Jan. 30) and Missouri-St. Louis (86-82 on Thursday).
“I’m glad it’s over,” said Statham, who has compiled a record of 1,099-476 in his 50 years at McKendree. “Time was not the problem, winning was the problem. It’s been a great 50 and it’s been because of great guys like him (gesturing at Michael). We’ve had super guys since the first year. They’ve all played hard. I’m proud of them.
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Statham said he recently spoke with Summitt’s son, Tyler Summitt, who is the women’s basketball coach at Louisiana Tech. Pat Summitt compiled a career record of 1,098-208 and won eight national titles in 38 seasons as coach of the Lady Vols.
“He gave me a call a few days ago to wish me well,” said Statham, whose Bearcats improved to 11-10 overall and 4-9 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. “She’s a great lady. Had she stayed healthy, she would have won 2,000 games. I never would have caught her.”
With 18 points in the first half, followed by 22 more in the final 20 minutes, Michael made sure that Statham would not be denied against the Saints.
“I just told him, ‘Coach, look at me. Congratulations,’” said Michael, of what he said to Statham following an emotional hug on the sideline after exiting the game in the final seconds. “We knew we had our chances against Lewis and UMSL, but those two teams made a few more plays than we did.
“So when we had the chance to get it for him tonight, we were not going to let it slip away in the last four minutes.”
For the game, Michael was a sizzling 14-of-24 from the field — including six of 10 from 3-point range. He also sank all six of his free throw attempts, each of them coming in the final minutes.
“It was just one of those times you have as a basketball player, where you get into one of those zones,” Michael said. “And for it to happen tonight, in this kind of game, is pretty sweet.”
Michael scored all the points in a 9-0 run which allowed McKendree to take a 24-17 lead during the first half. But it would take a free-throw line jumper from the freshman with five seconds left in the half to send the Bearcats into the break leading 29-28.
The game remained close throughout the second half, until a Michael 3-pointer tied the game at 58 and ignited a 22-6 surge that left the Bearcats in control.
Michael, the son of former University of Illinois standout and Carlyle High graduate Tom Michael, had eight points in the run, before exiting the game with his third foul with 8:02 remaining.
In his absence, juniors, David Franklin and Michael Jackson stepped up, going hard to the basket and for 11 points in that stretch.
Franklin, an Althoff grad, would finish with 21 points. O’Fallon grad Jackson had 14 points to go with a game-high 10 rebounds.
“Tonight was Nate’s night. He’s an aggressive player and we let him go,” said Franklin, who 12 points in the second half. “But when he got his third foul, I knew that someone else had to be aggressive and as one of our captain’s that needed to be me.
“So did Michael. Everyone did, from coach down to the last player, a team effort.”
Maryville’s Marvin Grant-Clark led one final surge by the Saints, his third 3-pointer of the game drawing his team to within 84-79 with 38 seconds left.
But Jackson, Michael and Franklin all sank a pair of free throws in the game’s final 34.9 seconds to seal the win.
“They’re a surprising team in how they can shoot the ball and they started making those 3-pointers,” Statham said. “Fortunately, we made some free throws. I was nervous there until the final tick, never took it for granted.”
Sophomore guard Forrester Sims topped Maryville (8-15, 2-11 GLVC) with 23 points, followed by Grant-Clark with 21. Six-foot-9 center Max Mischkulnig had 10 points to go with seven rebounds.
“They were played inspired basketball for their coach, and rightfully so, he’s a legend,” said Maryville coach Kevin Carroll. “They sensed the moment and played extremely well the last 10 minutes of the game.”
Maryville 60, McKendree 47
Red Bud graduate Ali Ringering hit five free throws in the late going to help seal the Saints’Great Lakes Conference win over the Bearcats in the women’s game Saturday.
Freshman forward Jordan Morton scored 14 points and pulled down nine rebounds for McKendree in the loss at Maryville University.
The Bearcats fell to 10-13 overall and 5-7 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and will begin a five-game homestand to close out the regular season on Thursday when they host Missouri S&T at 5:30 p.m.
Maryville’s Alex Hillyer led all players with 19 points.