College Sports

McKendree opens men’s basketball season with a victory

The McKendree University men’s basketball team kicked off its 2016-17 season Saturday night with a 97-57 victory at home against Robert Morris University-Springfield.

Junior guard Justin Blanks came off the bench to lead the way with 27 points as the Bearcats rolled to the 40-point win. McKendree, now 1-0 on the year, will head north on Tuesday for an exhibition game at the University of Illinois. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at the State Farm Center.

Senior guard Michael Jackson (O’Fallon) added 16 points in the effort. Freshman center Nolan Gerling (Breese Mater Dei) registered 14 points and a team-leading eight rebounds, while sophomore guard Nate Michael and junior forward Rob Hudson each connected for 10 points. Despite not scoring against Robert Morris-Springfield, senior guard Kyle Yates (Bethalto Civic Memorial) handed out a game-high eight assists for the Bearcats.

McKendree broke from the gates quickly against Robert Morris-Springfield (0-3), opening the contest on a 30-6 run. The Bearcats held the Eagles without a field goal for more than nine minutes in the middle portion of the period. McKendree stretched its lead to as many as 36 points in the first half before taking a 46-15 lead at the intermission.

In the second half, McKendree continued to add to its advantage by shooting 56.7 percent (17-of-30) from the field in the final 20 minutes of play. The Bearcats dominated the boards against Robert Morris-Springfield by holding a 59-39 edge on the glass.

Leo Bowen netted 17 points in a reserve role for Robert Morris-Springfield. He was the only Eagle player to reach double figures in the scoring column. Daquan Boyd added team-high totals of eight rebounds and five assists for Robert Morris-Springfield.

Saturday’s win marked the fourth straight year that McKendree won its regular-season opener. It was also the first of 16 home contests at the Harry M. Statham Sports Center for the Bearcats in 2016-17.