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Despite Gerling’s high-scoring performance, Bearcats fall to Lincoln

The McKendree University men’s basketball team was edged Sunday afternoon by Lincoln University on the final day of the Quincy/Subway Holiday Classic at Pepsi Arena in Quincy, Illinois, 73-69.

The Bearcats nearly overcame a 17-point deficit with just under 12 minutes remaining but the Blue Tigers hit four key free throws in the final 21 seconds to thwart the comeback effort.

Junior center Nolan Gerling scored a game-high — and season-best — 23 points to lead the way for McKendree. Gerling was 11-of-16 from the field and added a team-leading five rebounds against Lincoln. Senior guard Nate Michael and junior guard Alijah Thomas each connected for 17 points on Sunday, while Thomas dished out three assists to lead the Bearcats.

The first half of Sunday’s game resembled a track meet that featured nine ties and nine lead changes. Both teams shot better than 70 percent for the balance of the period as well. McKendree made 69.6 percent of its attempts from the floor (16-of-23) while Lincoln was right behind at 65.5 percent (19-of-29).

The Bearcats held the early advantage, building a 14-10 cushion after a three-pointer from Michael with 15:44 left in the half. The Blue Tigers battled back and forged a 26-23 lead a little more than nine minutes into action.

McKendree and Lincoln traded baskets and leads over the next five minutes. The Bearcats’ lead came at 34-33 on a layup from Gerling at the 6:06 mark before the Blue Tigers used a quick 6-2 burst to move ahead at 39-36. McKendree managed to tie the score on three more occasions, the last coming at 43-43 thanks to a lay-up from junior guard Logan Kohrmann with 3:06 left until halftime. Lincoln then closed the period on an 8-2 run to take a 51-45 lead at the intermission.

The Blue Tigers opened the second half on a 12-2 run to extend their cushion to 63-47 with 12:23 on the clock and eventually stretched the margin to 66-49 before McKendree fought back. The Bearcats reeled off 13 consecutive points to pull within 66-62 with just over six minutes on the clock. Thomas figured prominently in the run, scoring six straight points as McKendree held Lincoln scoreless for nearly six minutes.

A jumper by Gerling with 1:48 remaining helped McKendree pull within 68-67 before a Lincoln free throw 20 seconds later pushed the Blue Tigers’ lead back to two points. The Bearcats were forced to foul in the closing seconds, but Lincoln was able to convert all four of its attempts from the stripe in the final 21 seconds to hold off the McKendree comeback bid.

Amariontez Ivory paced Lincoln with 22 points, while Ni’Sean Rigmaiden added 16 points, five assists and four steals.

McKendree slips to 4-6 on the season and will close out the first semester of action Wednesday afternoon with a nonconference home game against Eureka College. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. at the Statham Center.