It was a festive Thursday night of celebration, with the focal points being a victory for the McKendree University men’s basketball team that was followed by a half-hour salute to 50th-year coach Harry Statham.
The Bearcats qualified for their first-ever Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament with a dramatic come-from-behind 88-83 victory over Illinois-Springfield.
David Franklin (career-high 37 points), Nate Michael (27) and Michael Jackson (18) accounted for all but six points of the Bearcats’ points. McKendree (13-13 overall, 6-12 GLVC) outscored the Prairie Stars 9-4 in overtime, as Franklin, Michael and Jackson combined for eight points.
Franklin, an Althoff High graduate, was 15-for-23 from the field and also grabbed nine rebounds.
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“I’m just glad we got the game, like Coach said, for A.J. (Schmidt) and just for our team,” Franklin said, referring to the Bearcats’ injured point guard. “We’re 13-13 now for the regular season. For the type of year we had, it’s good to finish .500 and now we’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time. That’s the biggest thing we won.”
A capacity crowd of 1,268 witnessed the wild game, then enjoyed a tribute to Statham for him recording his 1,099th and 1,100th career victories and his 50 seasons at McKendree. Statham has more wins than any other coach at a four-year school, and his career record is 1,101-479.
Statham surpassed former Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt with his 1,099th win on Feb. 6 at Maryville, which set the record for wins by coaches at a four-year school.
McKendree, seeded 10th in the GLVC Tournament, will play at seventh-seeded Quincy (18-9, 7-3) at 3:15 p.m. Sunday. The winner will advance to the quarterfinals at Family Arena in St. Charles, Mo.
Illinois-Springfield finished 11-17 and 5-13.
McKendree trailed 47-42 at halftime, and while its offense was clicking during the second half and overtime, it was unable to get crucial defensive stops at important times. The Bearcats limited Illinois-Springfield to 33-percent shooting in the second half and overtime (13-for-39).
However, the Bearcats finally turned the corner in the final five minutes of regulation, and an 8-0 run gave them a 77-76 lead with 53.8 seconds left. Jackson had four free throws during the stretch and Franklin and Michael had a basket.
Franklin sank two free throws with 19.2 seconds left to put McKendree ahead 79-76, but Prairie Stars freshman Zach Steinberg tied the game with a 3-pointer with seven seconds left. Franklin’s 3-pointer from the left corner was no good at the buzzer.
The Bearcats scored the first six points of overtime, but led just 85-83 when Jamall Millison made two free throws with 1:31 left. Michael sank two free throws to make it 87-83, and David Newton added another free throw in the closing seconds to ice the win.
“Once we got down by one and then got up by one, I knew we had a chance to pull it out because we’re good at shooting free throws and we were at home,” Franklin said. “All we needed to do was get stops.”
Franklin is enjoying his first season under Statham, and his play is an indication. He is averaging 21.5 points.
“Everything he has accomplished for himself, for this school, is amazing,” Franklin said. “It’s a blessing to play for somebody like that.”
McKendree 71, Illinois-Springfield 54 (women)
The Bearcats women’s team gained a must-win against the Prairie Stars and advanced to the GLVC Tournament as junior Emily Pusheck came off the bench and led all scorers with 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting and junior Shannon McGinnis had 14 points.
Senior Ashley Klass was 4-for-5 on 3-pointers and finished with 12 points, while freshman Jordan Morton had 12 rebounds and junior Amber Alexander had 10 assists for the Bearcats, who led 31-18 at halftime and remained in control in the third and fourth quarters.
McKendree (12-16, 7-11) landed the No. 8 seed in the GLVC Tournament and will play host to No. 9 Indianapolis (9-19, 7-11) at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Bearcats defeated the Greyhounds 54-51 on Jan. 23 in Indianapolis, which gave them the higher seed in the tournament.
“Huge win. A big game,” first-year McKendree coach Kari Kerkhoff said of the game against Illinois-Springfield. “I thought our ladies came out ready to play. We started the survive-and-advance a little bit early today, but I was proud of the girls and how they came out. They fought the whole time.”
Kerkhoff said it was “pretty awesome” in a raucous postgame locker room.
“Our athletic director was in there, Chuck (Brueggemann), and the president, Dr. (James) Dennis,” Kerkhoff said. “The girls were pretty pumped up to find out we will be hosting Sunday in the conference tournament. And the seniors had a nice saying to Coach (Katie) Broadway and myself about how they loved this senior year.”