For the first time in years, The Master’s College men’s basketball team is a serious player in the GSAC and has returned to national prominence. That claim had been bolstered by a 12-3 start and a No. 16 ranking in the most recent NAIA Top 25 Poll.
However, it’s one thing to be a contender once in a while and quite another to be a perennial one. That’s what the Mustangs ran up against Tuesday evening at Concordia where they put a scare into the fourth-ranked Eagles before falling short 91-80.
The defending GSAC champions showed why they’re always playing well into March, overcoming an early 13-point deficit and then pulling away in the final four minutes to tie the Mustangs (12-4, 4-1) at the top of the conference standings.
It was no small task the Mustangs carried out in the first five minutes of play, hitting six of their first nine shots and converting six free throws while bolting to a 19-6 lead. Senior Anthony Cammon led the charge with 10 of those points.
Rocked by the visitors from Newhall, the Eagles regained some composure by slicing the deficit to 23-15 on an Edward Willis layup with 12:35 left in the first half. But, the Mustangs were determined to stay with the hosts, using a Chris Patureau three-pointer and a pair of Devin Dyer baskets to build a trio of 11-point advantages.
The last of those (30-19) came with 10:51 remaining in the period. A little over two minutes later, that cushion was all but gone as the Eagles ripped off nine straight points to pull within two.
But the Mustangs hanged on, refusing to give up the lead. The Eagles got within one (38-37) but a Cammon three-pointer provided some relief. The Eagles answered with a pair of free throws but Patureau ignited a 7-0 blitz with a pair of charity tosses and the Mustangs led 48-39. Dyer contributed a three-point play and Leif Karlberg capped off the run with a layup at the 4:20 mark.
Just as quickly, however, the Eagles turned the tables, outscoring the Mustangs 8-2 over the final 3:25, closing to within 50-49 at halftime.
The Mustangs lit it up in the first half, converting at a 62 percent clip as Cammon led the way with 17 points on 7-9 shooting from the field.
That type of shooting continued in the opening minutes of the second half but even that wasn’t good enough as the Eagles caught and passed the Mustangs for their first lead of the game at 55-54.
The narrowest of deficits lasted all of 17 seconds, though, as Cammon put his team back in front with a layup, igniting a modest 5-0 spurt that Dyer capped on a three-pointer. The Mustangs clung to the lead for nearly six minutes, building a pair of five-point margins (63-58, 65-60) on a Mike Harmon jumper and two Dyer free throws.
That last five-point advantage was quickly erased, however, as the Eagles rattled off eight straight points in a 2 1/2-minute window, moving ahead 68-65 with 9:56 left to play. A Harmon jumper snapped the skein but the Eagles weren’t finished, capping off a 14-2 run with six consecutive points for a 74-67 advantage at the 8:30 mark.
But on an evening when they were making their case for playing with the big boys, the Mustangs refused to go quietly. Down 76-69 with just over six minutes left, the club rallied with five points from Anthony Wells and a tip-in by Patureau to knot the game.
However, in a second half that featured a number of runs, it was a 7-0 Eagle skein in a 1:43 window that proved to be decisive. Keyed by a three-point play from Austin Simon and capped by a Cameron Glidden trey, the Eagles took the lead for good.
A Wells’ layup with 1:37 remaining sliced the deficit to 83-78 but the Mustangs couldn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
Following a sizzling first half, the Mustangs managed just 32 percent accuracy over the final 20 minutes. Cammon led all scorers with 23 points while Dyer, the reigning GSAC Player of the Week, tossed in 18 more. Karlberg was the only other Mustang in double figures, tallying 10 points.
Now sharing first place with Concordia and Westmont, the Mustangs return home Saturday evening to host Vanguard. Game time is slated for 7:30pm in Bross Gym.