MANKATO, Minn.-- One night after falling in the final seconds of overtime, Men's Basketball faced a tough test on Saturday night in Mankato. North Central responded by methodically controlling the tempo and defeating Bethany Lutheran College 87-75 in a game selected as the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference game of the week.
North Central (8-12, 4-6 UMAC) lost in the final seconds of overtime on Friday to Martin Luther College (New Ulm, Minn.) that pushed their conference losing streak to four games. They had little time to recover before having to take the court in an equally important game being featured as the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference game of the week on Saturday at Bethany Lutheran College (Mankato, Minn.).
Bethany Lutheran defeated the Rams at North Central in early January which added to the intensity of Saturday's match-up. North Central started well and took an early 9-4 lead on a jumper from senior Luke Chafin (Dayton, Ohio/Troy Christian) just less than four minutes into the game. Bethany responded by coming back to take a 12-9 lead and it looked like momentum had swung away from the Rams.
However, North Central responded with buckets on their next three possessions to retake the lead. The Vikings would tie the game at 15-15 but on the Rams' next trip, freshman Joel Cline (Green Bay , Wis./) pulled down an offensive rebound and freshman Travis Voigt connected on a three point shot that put NCU back in front with 12:22 left in the half. Despite many runs by each team over the next 28 minutes, the Rams would not trail again.
North Central would answer every surge the Vikings made and though they never led by more than five in the first half, North Central made Bethany Lutheran work for everything they got on offense. The Rams took a 42-39 lead to the break when junior Clarke Mossman (Conrad, Iowa/Marshalltown) hit a jumper in the final seconds of the half.
After the Vikings scored the first bucket of the second half, North Central made an 8-0 run to build a 50-41 lead at the 16:52 mark. Bethany got within four a few minutes later, but the Rams answered with another 8-0 run that pushed the difference to 58-46 with 12:08 remaining.
Neither team would relent with so much time remaining and the Vikings got back to within 58-51 at the 11:27 mark. But Joel Cline posted six straight points of his own to keep the Rams in front 63-53 less than a minute later.
North Central continued to work hard on the defensive end but offensive rebounds kept the Vikings alive and the hosts were within 68-61 with 7:04 remaining. North Central never lost focus despite some hard work by Bethany Lutheran on the glass, and the Rams worked through the final minutes with determination that would eventually payoff.
When the Vikings missed on two straight trips the Rams converted their chances to points and moved the difference back to 79-64 with 4:35 left. The Vikings would stay in the game down the stretch but the Rams converted enough free throws to gain their largest distance, 84-68 with 2:44 remaining and that lead proved insurmountable.
Luke Chafin was a force for the Rams, scoring a game high 22 points with 7 rebounds and 6 assists on the night. Travis Voigt and Joel Cline were huge contributors off the bench with 15 and 14 points respectively while individually influencing the game at key moments.
Clarke Mossman added 10 points while senior Jordan Harrell (Maple Grove, Minn./Maple Grove) added 10 points and 12 rebounds despite playing just 20 minutes after being benched with 3 fouls including a technical.
Saturday's meeting was a near total role reversal as the Rams blazed the nets with a .636 shooting percentage while BLC fired just .386. In their first meeting in Minneapolis in January, BLC fired .500 while the Rams struggled to a .313 mark. In January the Rams committed 20 turnovers with just 14 assists. On Saturday the Rams handed out 27 assists with just 9 turnovers. With Jordan Harrell on the bench for large stretches the Vikings used 21 offensive rebounds to score 20 second chance points that kept them in the game despite the shooting accuracy difference.
With their victory on Saturday the Rams kept themselves in the fourth spot for the UMAC post season tournament. They are currently tied with Northland College (Ashland, Wis.) for the final spot but will take on the Lumberjacks next weekend. First the Rams take on third place St. Scholastica (Duluth, Minn.) at home on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Saturday the Rams will host Northland at 5 p.m. The Rams defeated both the Saints and Lumberjacks in their first meetings in January.