The McKendree University men’s basketball team opened up a three-game home stand on Monday evening with a 92-89 loss to the University of Illinois Springfield at the Harry M. Statham Sports Center.
Senior guard Michael Jackson finished just one point shy of his career-high by knocking down 28 points to lead the way for the Bearcats. Jackson netted 18 of his points in the opening half for McKendree, which moves to 6-8 on the year and 0-6 in Great Lakes Valley Conference play. The Bearcats will continue their home stand Thursday evening against the University of Indianapolis. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.
Senior guard David Franklin helped out with 18 points, seven rebounds and a team-leading four assists for McKendree, while freshman center Nolan Gerling added 13 points. Sophomore guard Nate Michael and junior guard Justin Blanks each connected for 11 points for the Bearcats, who made 12 three-pointers and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc against the visiting Prairie Stars.
After leading 45-40 at the half, McKendree stretched its advantage to 48-42 on a lay-up by Gerling with 18:36 remaining. Illinois Springfield then used a 6-0 spurt to pull even for the first time in the game at 48-48 just over a minute later. The teams continued to battle down the stretch as the period featured seven ties and seven lead changes.
Blanks sank a pair of free throws with 5:24 on the clock to give McKendree its final lead of the night at 76-75. The Prairie Stars then held the Bearcats without a field goal for just over three minutes in scoring seven of the next eight points to surge in front to stay at 82-77. A three-pointer from Franklin at the 2:12 mark broke the scoring drought for McKendree and helped the hosts pull within 82-80.
Illinois Springfield (7-9, 2-5 GLVC) appeared to have the game in control by building an 87-81 lead with 39 seconds on the clock. Blanks drilled a deep three-pointer to cut the margin in half, and Franklin followed a UIS free throw with a driving lay-up to slash the deficit to 88-86 with 19 seconds to play. The Prairie Stars’ Eddie Longmeyer was fouled after the inbounds play, and his two free throws moved the lead back to four points with 13 seconds remaining.
Jackson buried a second-chance three-pointer in front of the Bearcats’ bench to trim the McKendree deficit to 90-89, but UIS’ Paxton Harmon sealed the win for the visitors by hitting two free throws with less than a second left.
McKendree led throughout the first half, opening with a 6-2 run and eventually building an eight-point lead in the later stages of the period. A three-pointer by Jackson with 3:17 left before the half gave the Bearcats a 39-31 lead. Illinois Springfield cut into the McKendree lead and pulled within three points before a jumper by Gerling helped the Bearcats establish a 45-40 lead at the break. Franklin nearly made it an eight-point bulge for McKendree, but his 30-foot three-pointer on the final shot of the period came just after the buzzer sounded.
Harmon led all scorers with 29 points for Illinois Springfield. Longmeyer narrowly missed a triple-double with 16 points and game-high totals of 11 rebounds and nine assists, while Zach Steinberg chipped in with 15 points.
The two teams will meet again in the 2016-17 regular-season finale on Feb. 23 in Springfield, Ill.