BY MIKE URSERY
The No. 7 Central Methodist men’s basketball Eagles were a perfect 16-0 at Puckett Field House during the regular season.
That home record improved to 17-0 after the Eagles defeated Mount Mercy in the quarterfinals of the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament.
That home streak was snapped when the Eagles lost 62-51 to the No. 23 Graceland Yellowjackets in the Heart Tournament semifinals on March 2. The loss knocked CMU out of the tournament. They won’t know when is their next game until after the NAIA National Tournament bracket reveal on March 7.
It was as if the rim on the Eagles’ end during the both halves had a lid over it. CMU shot 24 percent for the game. They shot 23 percent in the first half, yet trailed by only eight points at halftime.
Graceland began the game on a 6-0 run. The Eagles missed their first four shots during that run.
CMU senior guard Brian Egejuru put the Eagles on the scoreboard at the 16:43 mark when he hit a 3-pointer, making the score 6-3.
Egejuru hit another 3-pointer soon after to tie the game. From there, CMU missed their next 15 shots, and allowed Graceland to go on a 21-0 run. The Yellowjackets led 27-6 with 8:05 left in the first half.
CMU sophomore forward Christian Soderholm hit a 3-pointer at the 7:13 mark of the first half to put an end to a scoring drought that lasted for more than nine minutes.
Soderholm’s 3-pointer was the start of a 10-0 run by CMU as they begin to claw their way back into the game. However, the Eagles shot 3-for-7 during their run, and shot 3-for-4 at the free throw line. The score was 27-16 with 2:14 left to play in the first half.
CMU put five more points on the scoreboard before the first half ended. At halftime, the score was 30-22. The Eagles shot 7-for-31 from the floor in the first half.
The Eagles’ shooting performance in the second half was almost identical to what they did in the first half. CMU was 8-for-31 in the second half.
It started out as if CMU was able to get past their shooting woes from the first half, making their first three shots. From there, they missed their next nine. The Eagles had cut the lead down to five, but Graceland was able to extend it to nine points during that 0-for-9 drought. The score was 38-29 with 13:29 to play in the game.
With 10:40 to play, the Eagles were handed a good opportunity from Graceland to put themselves in a position to take control. CMU junior guard Terrance Bush was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer. He was set to shoot three free throws, but a technical foul against Graceland awarded CMU two more shots at the charity stripe.
The score was 38-33, Graceland leading, when Bush attempted his first shot. It missed. He made the second technical foul free throw.
Bush went on to hit two of the next three free throws, making the score 38-36 with 10:40 to play.
CMU missed their next four shots, allowing the Yellowjackets to go on another run. They scored six straight points, making the score 44-36 with 9:01 left, and swinging the momentum back to themselves.
CMU shot 5-for-16 over those final nine minutes. Egejuru hit a shot to cut the lead down to six, 54-48, with 1:26 to go. That was the closest the Eagles got to Graceland. The Yellowjackets were able to close out the final 86 seconds and put themselves in the Heart Tournament championship game.
Peru State upset No. 1 seed Willaim Penn on the road, making Graceland the host site for the championship game.
Graceland defeated Peru State 95-68 in the title game. The HAAC will send three teams to the NAIA National Tournament.
CMU will have to wait until the NAIA National Tournament bracket reveal on March 7 to find out who is their next opponent.
The NAIA National Tournament will be held March 14-20 at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri. For schedule and ticketing information for the NAIA National Tournament, visit http://www.naia.org.