Redshirt freshman Nate Michael caught fire in the second half Thursday, a hot streak that coincided with McKendree University’s 69-58 victory over William Jewell.
Michael, the son of former Carlyle High and Illinois star Tom Michael, scored 16 of his 21 points in the second half. The 6-foot-3 guard also had eight rebounds and chased down about every loose ball to spark the Bearcats.
“We knew we had a good chance to win if we battled,” Michael said. “I thought we did that in the second half. We were careless in the first half, but we came out and played like a team in the second half.”
McKendree, which outscored William Jewell 39-21 in the second half, improved to 8-5 overall and 1-4 in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Cardinals fell to 5-8 and 0-5.
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Junior Michael Jackson, an O’Fallon High graduate, led the Bearcats with 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Junior David Franklin, an Althoff High graduate, had eight points and 10 rebounds and junior Darin Winkelman, a Steeleville High graduate, had 10 points.
McKendree was 24-for-34 from the free-throw line.
The Bearcats had just nine healthy players. Senior point guard A.J. Schmidt missed his first game after suffering a potential season-ending knee Saturday at Quincy. Another senior, Central High graduate Brandon Book, is out for the year with a shoulder injury. Another recruit, Mater Dei graduate Noah Gerling, also is sidelined for the season.
It was the 1,096th career victory for McKendree coach Harry Statham, who appreciated the performance turned in by Michael.
“He played well. He had a big ballgame,” Statham said. “That’s what we want him to do; that’s what he’s supposed to do. We did much better the last half in every aspect of the game.”
McKendree trailed 37-30 at halftime, but took the lead for good at 43-42 on two free throws by senior John Murphy, part of a 15-5 run in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half.
The Bearcats stretched their lead to 54-45 on Michael’s drive to the basket with 4:59 to play. Following a basket by Cardinals senior Darius Tomlin off a turnover by Michael made it 54-47, Michael was pulled out of the game for a one-sided conversation with Statham.
He immediately returned, and the Bearcats led by at least seven in the final four minutes.
“He was telling me I was playing great, but he thought I let that moment get a little too big for me right there,” Michael said. “I came off a ball screen and I picked up my dribbled and threw it away. I got careless with it.”
Statham said Michael knew he had made a mistake.
“He’s a good kid,” Statham said. “He’s a freshman. He didn’t play last year. It’s a big game, he’s excited, he’s a competitor, he’s fired up and into it. I just tried to get him to settle down a little bit and not try to do too many things, just keep it simple. It was immaturity, inexperience.”
McKendree 57, William Jewell 47 (OT)
In the women’s game, the Bearcats trailed 18-6 in the first quarter, but rallied to send the game into overtime and then took over in the extra session.
McKendree went 9-for-10 from the free-throw line in overtime and junior Amber Alexander popped a 28-foot 3-pointer against the shot clock to spark the Bearcats (7-9, 2-4), who received a team-high 20 points off the bench from junior Ellie Puscheck.
“It was a team effort,” Alexander said. “They had some runs, but we didn’t break down. We came together, played some defense and got some good stops toward the end.”
Alexander called overtime was “a gut check.”
“We know we needed this game,” she said. “We really wanted it and it was a winnable game. ... It was a conference game. We were 1-4 in conference, so we know we needed to make a statement.”
The game was tied at 43 after regulation, but Pusheck made two free throws and Alexander, following her own steal, made the key 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired, putting McKendree ahead 48-43 with 3:03 remaining in the overtime.
“I felt it,” Alexander said, explaining that she sensed the shot was good as soon as it left her hands. “I knew there was only three seconds left (on the shot clock), so I just got in my stance and it went in for me.”
William Jewell, which fell to 6-10 and 1-4, was led by freshman Madison Campbell’s 11 points. The Cardinals shot just 23 percent (7-for-30) in the second half and overtime.
McKendree shot 37 percent overall (17-for-46) and was 20-for-25 from the line.
“I think the biggest thing is we made our free throws,” first-year Bearcats coach Kari Kerkhoff said. “We’ve struggled with that the last couple of games; we’ve shot 40 percent. That was huge. The other part is the past two games, we’ve put people to the free-throw line too often. Tonight, they only got there eight times.”