The McKendree University men’s basketball team tipped off its 2015-16 season on Tuesday with a 90-88 victory over Blackburn College at the Harry M. Statham Sports Center.
Senior guard A.J. Schmidt sank a pair of free throws with 11.4 seconds remaining to break an 88-88 deadlock and send the Bearcats to the victory. It marked the third straight year that McKendree has notched a victory in its regular-season opener. The Bearcats will have a week off before returning to action Nov. 24 at the Statham Center against Lincoln University. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
Junior forward David Franklin (Althoff) paced McKendree with 24 points, including 17 in the first half. Franklin also pulled down a team-leading six rebounds in the effort. Junior guard Michael Jackson (O’Fallon) chipped in with 21 points and five rebounds while dishing out three assists. Senior forward Brandon Book (Breese Central) came off the bench to add 11 points and a game-high four steals.
McKendree held a 10-point lead in the early stages of the second half, but visiting Blackburn (0-2) was able to pull even thanks to a 10-0 run that knotted the contest at 61-61 with 13:05 on the clock. The score was tied six times with four lead changes down the stretch as the Beavers forged an 88-84 advantage with just under two minutes remaining.
Franklin was fouled on a drive to the basket with 1:29 to play, and he sank two free throws to pull McKendree within 88-86. After a missed jumper by Blackburn, the Bearcats quickly tied the game as Jackson scored with just over a minute to play. The Beavers were off the mark on a three-point attempt on their next possession, and McKendree looked to work the clock down. The ball ended up in the hands of Schmidt, who drove the lane with the shot clocking winding down. He was fouled in the lane, giving him two free throws with 11.4 seconds left.
Schmidt splashed down both foul shots to cap a 6-0 run and give McKendree its final lead of the night. Following a timeout, Blackburn’s Jake Maestranzi missed a running jumper with five seconds on the clock and crashed to the floor with McKendree junior guard Kyle Yates (Bethalto, Ill./Civic Memorial) while following the miss. The two created a jump ball situation, with the arrow in favor of the Bearcats. With 1.2 seconds showing on the game clock, the Bearcats were able to inbound the ball and run out the final ticks.
In the first half, McKendree controlled the tempo and the scoreboard for the majority of the period. The Bearcats shot 57.1 percent (20-of-35) over the first 20 minutes to build a 55-45 lead at the intermission. McKendree was also able to get out in transition during the opening period, scoring eight of their 10 fast-break points in the half.
McKendree was also able to take advantage of 29 fouls committed by Blackburn, converting 25-of-33 attempts from the free throw line in the victory. The Bearcats also forced its opponent into 16 turnovers.
DeAndre Manuel led all scorers with 26 points to show the way for Blackburn. Maestranzi connected for 16 points, while Jamie Moore finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds.