A dreadful start to the second half proved costly to McKendree University on Saturday.
Lewis outscored the Bearcats 26-8 in the first 9 minutes, 9 seconds of the half to build a 21-point lead, then held off McKendree’s determined comeback to post an 87-79 victory in a Great Lakes Valley Conference game.
The loss denied 50th-year McKendree coach Harry Statham from becoming the winningest coach in the nation at a four-year school. He is tied with former Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt with 1,098 career wins. Statham will go for No. 1,099 at Missouri-St. Louis at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
“We didn’t want to be on ESPN, obviously, for the bad part,” said Lewis sophomore Max Strus, who scored 21 points and pulled down 18 rebounds to lead the Flyers (15-6, 7-4). “I feel bad for beating them, but we kind of had to, you know? They’ll have a good chance (Thursday). If they keep playing like this, they can beat anybody.”
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Junior David Franklin, an Althoff High graduate, led McKendree (10-9, 3-8) with 22 points. Junior Michael Jackson, an O’Fallon High graduate, had 17 points, as did redshirt freshman Nate Michael. Junior Kyle Yates scored eight of his 10 points in the first half.
We should have (rallied) a little sooner, that’s all. If we had done it three or four minutes earlier, it may have (been different). We got a couple of buckets back-to-back. We had been waiting for something to happen. We scored a couple and got into it.
McKendree coach Harry Statham
McKendree trailed 42-39 at halftime, but the Flyers pounded the ball inside to the 6-foot-6 Strus, the Freshman of the Year in the GLVC last season, 6-7 senior Kyle Nelson and 6-9 freshman Frank Vukaj to open the second half. And after freshman guard Delaney Blaylock sparked a 10-0 run with two 3-pointers and a dunk, the Flyers led 68-47 with 10:51 to play.
Blaylock finished with 20 points, Nelson had 19 and junior Miles Simelton had 13.
“They’re a very good club,” Statham said. “They shoot it well and they’ve got very good size. We just didn’t play very well. Our shots are not in, theirs are. And if they missed, they would rebound and put it back in. Their inside game really hurt us. We had a hard time stopping them with the ball, and if they shot from the outside, the big guys got it and put it back.”
Lewis outscored McKendree 42-24 in the lane and 24-15 on second chances. The Flyers outrebounded the Bearcats 42-30.
“That’s where we had the advantage on them,” Strus said. “Kyle Nelson is a really good player for us. We took advantage of their mismatches and he played awesome today.”
The Bearcats’ comeback started with a 12-2 run that featured a 3-pointer by Michael and a three-point play by Jackson on a runout.
Still, McKendree’s deficit was 82-70 with three minutes left. But junior Darin Winkelman popped a 3-pointer and made two free throws before Michael’s basket that made it 82-77 with 2:01 remaining.
Franklin’s jumper made it 82-79 with 56 seconds left and brought the crowd of 879 to its feet. But junior Capel Henshaw made it 83-79 with a free throw with 33.2 seconds left, and after Franklin and Winkelman missed shots, Blaylock made a free throw to make it 84-79.
Strus followed with a midcourt steal and a three-point play with 9.6 seconds left.
“That’s a good team. They’re very good,” Statham said. “No question about it.
“We should have (rallied) a little sooner, that’s all. If we had done it three or four minutes earlier, it may have (been different). We got a couple of buckets back-to-back. We had been waiting for something to happen. We scored a couple and got into it.”
Power to the gymnasium was lost with about six minutes to play and Lewis leading 73-63. It was restored after about two minutes.
“We were playing Life University a few years ago and it was late in the game, almost over,” Statham said. “It was a one-point game and some kid hit the light switch and they all went off. We had at that time mercury-vapor lights. It took a long time to get them back. We had to wait around to get it bright for about a half-minute of play.”
Lewis 51, McKendree 46 (women)
The Bearcats (10-11, 5-6) pushed hard against the ninth-ranked Flyers (20-1, 11-0), but converted just two fourth-quarter baskets as their upset bid fell short.
“I told the ladies after the game that if we continue to rebound and play defense, we can compete with anyone,” McKendree coach Kari Kerkhoff said. “We just needed a couple more shots to drop. We had 11 more shots then them. If two of them would have fallen, that would be perfect.
“As much as this one hurts, we’re going in the right direction. This was progress.”
Senior Kacey Johnson led McKendree with 11 points. Junior Shannon McGinnis had eight points and six rebounds. Eight other players scored for the Bearcats.
McKendree led 43-40 when senior Kelsee Ennis swished two free throws with 5:34 to play. Lewis freshman Jessica Kelliher (19 points, nine rebounds), however, hit a basket and two free throws to put the Flyers ahead 44-43 with 3:43 left.
Senior Mariyah Brawner-Henley (17 points, eight rebounds) followed with a three-point play to make it 47-43 at the 2:44 mark. The Bearcats drew within 47-46 on a free throw by junior Ellie Pusheck and a baseline jumper by junior Emily Pusheck with 1:30 remaining.
Brawner-Henley’s basket made it 49-46 with 1:05 to play, and Bearcats freshman Jordan Morton missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Brawner-Henley sealed the win with two free throws in the final 9.5 seconds.
Six-footers Kelliher and Brawner-Henley powered Lewis to a 26-12 scoring advantage in the paint. The Bearcats outrebounded Lewis 35-27, but shot just 34 percent (18-for-53) and committed 16 turnovers. The Flyers shot 43 percent (18-for-42) and had 14 turnovers. McKendree attempted just six free throws, making five. Lewis was 13-for-16.
“The Henley girl is an All-American. There’s no doubt about it,” Kerkhoff said. “We tried to concentrate on (Brawner-Henley and Kelliher), especially with the zone. They still kind of found each other. They’re very good post players. They have good chemistry, knowing where the high-low stuff is. They executed really well on it.”