January 21, 2013

Statesmen top Mount Mercy in Top-10 battle

William Penn University

CEDAR RAPIDS — The William Penn men’s basketball team is the best rebounding program in NAIA Division II and it flexed that muscle on several occasions Saturday. The team also strengthened one of its few weaknesses en route to claiming a 92-87 victory over No. 7 Mount Mercy in a matchup of Midwest Collegiate Conference unbeatens Saturday.

In arguably the biggest regular season game in program history, the No. 2 Statesmen (21-1, 5-0 MCC) outrebounded the Mustangs 51-32, including a 21-8 edge on the offensive end. That led to a 25-16 margin in second-chance points.

The frequency of the officials’ whistles was also a major story line as the teams combined for 73 tripes to the line. William Penn, which entered the afternoon at just 64.5 percent, got stronger as the day wore on, finishing 29-of-43, while Mount Mercy (19-3, 4-1 MCC) was 20-of-30.

Those calls were directed at some of the best in the Statesmen, especially early on. Keith Steffeck played limited minutes, eventually fouling out as did Arman Rasul. Brandon Beasley collected two early violations, but fought through and was his team’s highest offensive producer with 26 points.

The game, which featured 18 ties and eight lead changes, was not decided until the final few seconds.  The Statesmen, who took the lead for good (not including ties) at 57-55 with 14 minutes remaining, led by as much as nine (5:51 left), only to watch their hosts climb to within two with 4:27 on the clock.

Still up by one at the 2:00 mark, sharpshooter Taylor Stoutner (Sr., Keota, Iowa, Physical Education) connected on just his second three-pointer of the game. Mount Mercy’s Chad Underwood, who was unstoppable with a game-high 35 points, answered right back, however, with a traditional three-point play of his own.

A pair of offensive rebounds on the other end kept the ensuing William Penn possession intact and given the chance to rise again, Stoutner did so with another trifecta. He finished with nine points.

This time, though, the Mustangs’ answer came from Lamar Wall with a deep ball of his own with 28 seconds left to make it 88-87 in favor of WPU.

Wall then quickly fouled Kevin Fay, sending the junior to the charity stripe for a pair. As cliché as it is, ice water coursed through Fay’s veins as he sank both free throws to force Mount Mercy to come up with one more response.

Lamonte Jenkins was the one with the move, disrupting Wall’s game-tying attempt and forcing it to come down well short of the goal. James Devlin grabbed the rebound and simply put two free-throw shots through the cylinder to secure the victory.

William Penn was outshot 50.8 percent to 43.9 percent and permitted the Mustangs to hit 54.8 percent of their tries after intermission. But championship teams find a way to win in all situations and the Statesmen discovered yet another path Saturday.

“This was probably the best game I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of in my coaching career,” Penn coach John Henry said.

Beasley was 8-of-16 from the field and 10-of-16 from the line. He also dished out four assists, stole three passes, and tied Fay for the team lead with eight rebounds.

Rasul and Blake Walker, with 13 points each, and Fay, with 12, also eclipsed double figures.

Steffeck added seven points and two blocks, while Devlin and Jenkins contributed six apiece. A telling sign of the depth the Statesmen possess, the navy and gold bench outscored Mount Mercy’s 27-3.

“Obviously winning makes things a lot more fun, but I really love the guys on this team,” Henry said. “They are unselfish and do not care who scores as long as we win. Any guy can step up and lead us on any given night and they have so many times already. This was a really special win, but it does not make our season. We know there is a lot of basketball left to play, but this one feels really good.”

William Penn hosts Grand View in MCC action at 7:30 p.m.