BY MIKE URSERY
The No. 12 Central Methodist men’s basketball Eagles won 17 games last season. With seven games remaining in the current season, they already have 20 wins.
The Eagles (20-3, 9-3 HAAC) picked up their 20th win on Jan. 31, defeating the Baker Wildcats (9-11, 3-9, HAAC) 71-62.
“It is a pretty big deal to reach the 20-win plateau before February, even if it were only a few hours away,” CMU head coach Jeff Sherman said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with this team. This is one of my teams that will truly stand out about overachieving this year.”
The win also marks another victory at Puckett Field House this season. The Eagles are 12-0 on their home court. They have four home games remaining in the regular season.
“I have always said a team that usually takes care of their home court has a culture within its program to be among the best at the end of the season,” Sherman said. “We are now 12-0 at home with 4 very tough games remaining. It may be a long shot to accomplish this, but our program has taken pride in our home court this year and excited to finish out the season and hopefully draw a few more home games in the playoffs.”
Sherman earned his 600th career win, and 600th win as the head coach of the Eagles, when CMU defeated Missouri Valley College 90-82, also at Puckett Field House.
The win didn’t come easy for the Eagles. They fell behind Baker twice, one time in each half.
CMU got off to a quick 6-0 start. However, Baker responded with a 7-0 run to go up 7-6 early in the first half.
The score went back-and-forth for the first half of the opening period. That changed when CMU went on an 8-0 run. This run included two 3-pointers from junior guard Terrance Bush. The North Central Missouri College transfer finished with a game-high 20 points.
CMU led 22-14 with 9:36 left in the first half. They were up 33-26 with 1:48 to go. Neither team scored again over the final 1:48, and this was the margin at halftime.
Baker opened the second half on a 10-0 run and led 36-33 with 16:35 to go in regulation. The Wildcats shot 9-for-24 from the floor in the first half, but made five of their first seven shots in the second.
The score was 41-41 before CMU went on another 8-0 run. The Eagles led 49-41 with 10:48 to play.
CMU pushed their lead to 11 points when the score became 60-49 with 5:31 to play.
Baker cut the deficit to five points with 1:10 left to play. Cornell Brown knocked down a pair of free throws to make the score 67-62.
CMU held the Wildcats scoreless the rest of the game.
“We seem to always have someone step up at the right time to either keep us in the game or seal the win in clutch time,” Sherman said. “I really hope this can continue for a few more weeks until we can get some issues worked out and become a little better and consistent over the 40-minute period.”
“We are tied for second place in our conference with two teams that are currently not ranked, and they are more talented than we are,” Sherman said. “It is going to be a tough stretch these weeks in February of maintaining this spot and hoping for a shot that final game of the season versus No. 1 in the nation William Penn. The top two teams in our conference receive an automatic bid and we have a lot of work to do to put ourselves in this spot. Though it looks good right now, our schedule isn’t as favorable as others in the league to finish the year out and we will be challenged every night to continue our path. The target is on our back more than the other teams. We want this, but you get everyone’s best game every night. I am very proud of how our staff and players have responded thus far.”
The target was certainly on their back when they hosted Missouri Valley College. CMU held a 21-12 lead midway through the first half, but the Vikings were able to close the gap, going on a 9-0 run to tie the game.
The Eagles led 34-28 at halftime.
Missouri Valley College went on a 13-0 run in the second half to go up 41-37.
The two teams exchanged leads through out the remainder of the second half. The Vikings led 76-73 with just over a minute left in regulation. Egejuru scored the final three points of the second half to force overtime. The score was tied 76-76 at the end of regulation.
CMU never trailed in overtime. They started on an 8-2 to go up 84-78. They won the game 90-82.
CMU is currently in first game in the HAAC South Division with a two-game lead over Missouri Valley College. They are tied for second overall in the conference with Graceland and Peru State.
Graceland holds the tiebreaker over CMU, as they defeated the Eagles 79-68 on Jan. 20 in Lamoni, Iowa.
The Eagles host Peru State on Feb. 10.
The top two teams in the HAAC will receive an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament.
CMU’s game against Benedictine on Feb. 7 begins at 7:30 p.m. Their home game against Peru State on Feb. 10 begins at 4 p.m.