The Tigers still aren't grabbing the majority of 50-50 balls, but when it comes to making the crucial plays late - MCC seems to have a firm grasp.
Clinging to a 71-70 lead with 6.8 seconds to play, MCC's Troidell Carter pulled down the rebound on Taylor Olson's free throw miss before sinking a pair at the other end as the Marshalltown Community College men's basketball team (4-0) held on for a 73-70 win over NJCAA Division I No. 7-ranked Kirkwood (1-3) on Friday at the Student Activity Center.
"We squeaked one out tonight. It could have gone the other way, but we found a way to win," said Tigers coach Brynjar Brynjarsson.
T-R PHOTO BY ROSS THEDE
MCC’s Troidell Carter cashes in on a layup attempt in the second half of Friday’s men’s basketball game against Kirkwood at the Student Activity Center.
Jamal Gatali led a balanced Tigers' attack with 15 points on a perfect 6-for-6 effort from the field. Chris Caird added 13 points - all in the first half - while Jamyles Coleman and Matej Delinac each added 11. Carter rounded out the Tigers' quintet of double-digit scorers with 10 points. Rahiem Holloway added eight points and seven steals.
"Our guys have bought in to what we've been doing since the beginning. There's not a selfish guy in that (locker) room," said Brynjarsson.
Leading by nine on three different occasions, MCC was never quite able to close the door on the Eagles. Gatali buried a 3-pointer to give the Tigers a 53-44 lead with 16:43 to play before Kirkwood mounted a 12-4 run to pull within 57-56 midway through the half.
Working the boards for a 37-23 advantage and earning more tries from the charity stripe (18-of-25 to 15-of-21), were two keys that kept the Eagles within striking distance.
"We had separation but we never found a way to get on cruise control and keep going," said Brynjarsson.
"On the offensive glass we gave up rebound after rebound, which was really the turning point of (Kirkwood) staying in the game."
Devan Douglas drained a trey to put the Eagles on top 62-61 with 5:27 left, Kirkwood's first lead since it was ahead 14-11 in the early going of the opening frame. Kevin Hunter extended the Eagles' edge to three before a pair of free throws from Holloway and a three-point play from Gatali put the Tigers back in front at 66-64 with 3:30 remaining.
Neither team led by more than three over the final eight and half minutes as missed free throws and turnovers from both sides kept the contest up for grabs. The Tigers seemed to establish a bit of cushion when Delinac knocked down a couple from the charity stripe before Najeal Young missed two on the other end, but MCC was whistled for a lane violation on the second miss. Young, who tallied a game-high 16 points, converted on the third try and cut the deficit to 70-69 with 30 seconds to play.
Holloway made 1-of-2 from the line to push the margin back to two, before both teams turned the ball over on successive possessions. Olson drew Gatali's fifth foul to approach the line with a chance to knot the game before Carter came through with the key rebound to seal it.
While the Tigers held on, Carter felt they could have made things a bit easier for themselves by locking things down better on the defensive end.
"It was tough, but you have just got to fight through it sometimes. They were coming back, but we stayed with it," said Carter.
"We can definitely improve on defense. If we played better defense we probably could have won by a bit more."
Six of the Tigers' first eight baskets came from behind the arc as MCC buried nine 3-pointers in the first half.
The Tigers earned their biggest lead of the opening stanza at 34-25 when Gatali converted an inbounds lob with 5:25 left, capping a 9-4 run. The Eagles countered with an 11-4 surge to trim the lead to 38-36 three minutes later. Douglas and Hunter finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively, for Kirkwood.
A double technical was given to both coaches late in the first half when Brynjarsson argued a no-call on an apparent charge taken by Caird and Eagles coach Doug Wagemester got a bit impatient with the stoppage in play.
The Tigers are back in action against Clinton on the road today with tip-off set for 2 p.m.
"We need to bounce back quickly, put it behind us and get ready to put a better effort in tomorrow," said Brynjarsson.