Senior guard Nate Michael hit a shot as time expired to give the McKendree University men’s basketball team an 80-78 win over Union University on Tuesday night in the Bearcats’ 2018-19 home opener.
Michael’s game-winning heave marked the 10th and final lead change in a tightly-contested battle that ended with McKendree’s Chris Foster earning his first victory as head coach of the Bearcats.
“Unbelievable,” said Foster after the game. “We were trying to inbound to Nolan (Gerling) in the middle and hit either Nate or Logan (Kohrmann) on the move. Our timing wasn’t great but it was a great effort by Nate to get a shot up and luckily it went in.”
Union had taken a 78-77 lead as Tylandrius Parks hit the back end of a two-shot foul with 2.8 seconds remaining. Each team called a timeout as the Bearcats were able to draw up their final play. Senior guard Giovanni Offard launched a pass to mid-court, where Gerling caught it and whipped an outlet pass to Michael near the sideline.
Michael was able to handle the low pass before it hit the ground, turned around and let loose from just inside the half-court stripe. The ball banked in and set off a wild celebration for the McKendree players. Video review confirmed the ball was released ahead of the final buzzer.
Michael scored all 10 of his points in the second half as McKendree improved to 1-2 on the season. Junior forward Rathen Carter came off the bench to post 13 of his team-leading 17 points in the second half for the Bearcats, while Offard added 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Gerling also reached double figures in the scoring column with 12 points as he added six rebounds. Kohrman finished with six points and a team-best eight rebounds for McKendree.
After holding a 36-35 lead at the half, McKendree reeled off the first eight points of the second half to take its largest lead of the night at 44-35 with just under 18 minutes to play. McKendree held its nine-point cushion at three different points in the period before Union (4-1) rallied.
The Bulldogs used an 11-2 run to pull even at 56-56 with 11:59 remaining. Union later surged in front thanks to a 13-4 burst to grab a 69-62 advantage with 4:03 on the clock.
McKendree began to chip away at the deficit and pulled within 75-73 following a basket by Kohrmann with 1:23 left. Following a three-point miss by Union, Michael was fouled on the Bearcats’ next possession and hit two free throws to knot the contest at 75-75 with 44.2 seconds to play.
he two teams traded quick baskets before Parks hit his free throw with 2.8 seconds on the clock to give the Bulldogs their final lead of the night. Then came Michael’s heroics, which sent the McKendree crowd home happy.
“I was really happy to see such a good crowd tonight,” said Michael. “They helped give us a lot of energy down the stretch, and we tried to feed off that emotion.”
Tyree Boykin poured in a game-high 30 points to lead the way for Union, while Parks added 17 points and a game-high nine rebounds off the bench for the Bulldogs.
McKendree will return to action Saturday with a nonconference home game against Principia College. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. at the Statham Center.