There is a reason why conference play in any sport is challenging. The KCAC is no different. In basketball, the teams play two games against each other.
The first half is finished and nationally-ranked Ottawa sits at the top despite the Braves’ eight-game winning streak being snapped Monday by McPherson at Wilson Field House. The Bulldogs nipped Ottawa, 91-88.
Ottawa’s KCAC lead shrank to one game over Oklahoma Wesleyan, heading into a key KCAC showdown Wednesday with the Eagles in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
“It is a tough place to play,” Ottawa coach Aaron Siebenthall said. We are looking forward to the challenge. I know our guys will come out and play really hard on Wednesday. If we execute a little better, we will be fine.”
Siebenthall said despite the loss Monday, Ottawa (16-2, 10-2) is still in control of the KCAC race.
“It is a long season,” he said. “We are halfway through the conference season. We are still in first place. We are the No. 1 team in this league. We have to make sure we come ready to work [Tuesday] and get ready for Oklahoma Wesleyan. The biggest game of the year is the next game. That is what we have to focus on.”
The teams will wake up Thursday and either see Ottawa’s lead grow to two games over the Eagles or the two teams will be tied.
McPherson and Ottawa played similar styles Monday night with both teams playing fast. The notable difference was the turnovers. Ottawa finished with 18 miscues, which led to 19 points for McPherson.
“The bottomline is we can’t have 18 turnovers,” Siebenthall said. “We have to shore that up. We have to take care of the ball, so we can make sure we get a few more possessions than the other team. We shot a better percentage than them. If you give a good team like McPherson extra chances, they are going to bite you.”
Ottawa won the rebound battle, but had nine less shot attempts.
“We played hard and battled,” Siebenthall said. “We finally beat somebody on the boards. That is a really good rebounding team. We shared the ball.”
Both teams answered each others runs. Ottawa came out of the gate fast, gaining a 19-7 advantage in the first six minutes of the contest. McPherson answered with a 36-16 run to take a 43-35 lead. McPherson led 45-44 at halftime.
The second half was more of the same with McPherson building an 11-point lead with 4:35 left in the game. Ottawa rallied back behind Darryl Bowie’s hot shooting and crawled within 89-88 with 35 seconds left. McPherson hit two of four free throws to increase the lead to three. Ottawa had a shot to tie, but Bowie’s trey bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
“We punched them in the mouth in the beginning,” Siebenthall said. “We came out hot. We got some good stops. Give them credit for coming back. It may have been a little bit of fool’s gold for us. We thought it was going to be a little easier than it was. They punched us in the mouth. It went back-and-forth. I am proud of our guys of making a run and making it a close game. I don’t think we are in that position, if we don’t turn it over a ton.”
Bowie paced Ottawa with 26 points. Mat Baldeh netted 15 points. Jaquan Daniels and Ryan Haskins finished with 12 points each. Kyle Patrick scored 10 points and had a team-high nine rebounds. Jackson Mallory led Ottawa with five assists.