The Southwestern men battled to the end Saturday night, falling short against NJCAA Div. II No. 16 North Central Missouri College in an 80-69 final.
A high tempo first half for both sides saw scoring pick up early. Southwestern and North Central traded scores, holding the contest to a one or two score game until a 9-2 stretch for the Pirates put NCMC ahead 31-23.
A triple from Demetrius Johnson cut the deficit to 31-26, but a 5-0 run to close out the first half for the Pirates gave them a 10-point lead entering halftime at 36-26.
Coming out of the half the Spartans gained a second wind, pulling the score back even on physical play and success from inside.
A 13-2 run, which included a technical on North Central Missouri’s Atavian Butler and an offensive basket interference on the Pirates, helped pull the Spartans even at 45 with 12:38 remaining in the game.
Southwestern took the lead three possessions later on a Donzell Johnson triple, making it 50-48. After the Pirates evened the score on the following possession, Donzell Johnson was successful from three again, making it 53-50.
However, the game shifted in the Pirates favor after a technical foul on the Southwestern bench and free throws for the Pirates gave the momentum to NCMC.
As a shorthanded Spartans team started to enter foul trouble, free throws and mid-range jumpers for the Pirates started to fall with success as the lead opened up to 65-58.
The deficit for the Spartans was too much to overcome as it opened up to 80-69, the final score.
A foul heavy game saw the Spartans and Pirates play much of the game in a stop and go tempo late in the contest, something Kastrup felt helped the Spartans in terms of catching their breath and keeping their energy.
The change of pace helped a limited Spartans team which only dressed six players for the second straight contest.
“I think the stop and go actually helped us because they (North Central) wanted to press and play fast,” said SWCC head coach Devin Kastrup. “Their press, we did a good job against for the most part, but it wore us out with only having six guys. Any time there was a stoppage I was happy because I didn’t have to use a timeout. ... The wheels just fell off in those last five minutes and they were able to extend the lead.”
The Spartans finished the contest with Kyle Hawthorne, Jimmie Richardson and Demetrius Johnson fouling out, leaving three players on the floor. Akeen Woods, Donzell Johnson and Charles Johnson were the remaining payers for Southwestern.
Donzell Johnson scored 21 points to lead SWCC. Woods scored 18 and Demetrius Johnson scored 13.
Southwestern played its last two games down half of its roster, dressing six players for both its game against Iowa Western Tuesday night and North Central Missouri over the weekend.
Playing down men was a result of team disciplinary issues, a matter and penalty which was handed down from Kastrup.
“It’s been a violation of team rules. Seven guys violated rules, so three of them sat Tuesday and four of them sat (Saturday),” said Kastrup.
Kastrup hopes discipline for his players will be something they can learn and grow from while also acknowledging the image it can give for the team.
“I hope that we learn our lesson from this and we don’t put ourselves in those kind of situations where the decisions that we make and the choices that we make affect our whole team. I think that’s something they’re still trying to learn,” said Kastrup. “There’s a ripple effect that affects our team and our college and the community.”
After the loss to North Central, Kastrup felt there was a moral victory for the team despite his opinions on celebrating them.
“I really hate moral victories, but I’m really proud with how our guys played (Saturday),” said Kastrup. “Only having six guys available, going througsome adverse situations where they were calling the game really tight and we were picking up cheap ones. Going down 10 (points) and still being able to battle the fatigue for three quarters of the game and fight back and bring them to five with five minutes to go, that’s all you want as a coach.”
Kastrup feels the team ran out of gas in the final stretch, which played into the end result for SWCC.
“That last five minutes is where you win it or lose it and for some reason so far this season we’ve ended up on the losing side,” said Kastrup. “That’s up to me to help these guys learn how to navigate the last leg of games and how to make those winning plays in crunch time. (Saturday) I think we just ran out of gas in the second half.”
Through the adversity, the Spartans have been able to see more floor time from individuals who did not have ample floor minutes before.
“I thought Jimmie Richardson has been an absolute stud for us,” said Kastrup. “He’s not going to do a lot that will show up in the stat sheet, but his energy is absolutely contagious. When he’s on the floor our energy picks up, and I’ve loved having him back after him not being available the first couple of weeks due to a transcript issue.”
Kastrup also said he’s been impressed with Donzell Johnson and Demetrius Johnson’s play when given the opportunity in an elevated role.
“Donzell has been phenomenal and Demetrius has shown some flashes of being pretty good. He’s just got to work on his consistency,” Kastrup said.
The Spartans took Iowa Western to a tight contest Tuesday night, leading 45-29 entering the half. SWCC was unable to contain the Reivers, running out of gas in the second half in a 6-point loss at 91-85.
James Kelley scored 27 points in all 40 minutes. He had 18 rebounds to complete the double-double and had five assists with four steals.
Donzell Johnson had 23 points with 4-for-8 shooting beyond the arc. Off the bench, Creshaun Brown had 13 points.
Similar to how SWCC finished Saturday, the Spartans closed out the game a man down. Sebastian Zehnder closed with five fouls, scoring seven points and collecting two rebounds with two assists in 32 minutes.
Playing down players, Kastrup again was happy with the effort, but recognizes there’s no room for error and that it is a physically draining game to play with a limited bench for the team.
“You’re only playing six guys. You don’t have any energy and there’s no room for error,” said Kastrup. “You mess up and you’re getting punished for your mistakes pretty easily. You play 40 minutes, and you’re going to be exhausted and our guys gave everything they had and that’s all I can ask for. That’s the positive, ... in terms of our effort, we’ll take it.”
UP NEXT – The Spartans will face North Iowa Area Wednesday night at home. Tipoff comes at 7:30 p.m.
According to Kastrup, the Spartans will likely be at full strength entering its game against NIACC for the first time since Nov. 22.