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Eagles beat No. 1 Spartans on Meeker's 3

The Kirkwood Eagles delivered a bold statement at Johnson Hall  Saturday afternoon.

Ethan Meeker provided the exclamation point.

Meeker hit a 3-pointer from deep in the corner with two seconds left  to snap a 75-75 tie and give Kirkwood a 78-75 victory over top-ranked  Southwestern before a festive crowd at home.

The 12th-ranked Eagles handed Southwestern its first loss of the  season and moved into a tie with the Spartans for first place in the  ICCAC conference with 6-1 records.

The Eagles announced to the world that they are fully capable of  winning the national title again this year. And Meeker proved that's  fully capable of delivering in the clutch.

"I knew I had to get it off quick," said Meeker, a freshman from  Galesburg, Ill. "I knew I didn't have time for a dribble or anything.

"It looked pretty good, but I was holding my breath until it dropped.  It was pretty nuts."

There was a terrific atmosphere at Johnson Hall for the showdown  between two of the premier junior college teams in the country and the  Eagles celebrated with their fans when it was over.

 

Southwestern (23-1) tied the game, 75-75, with about 12 seconds left  on a three-point sequence that included a successful free throw, a  missed free throw, an offensive rebound and a putback.

Kirkwood (19-4) had one timeout remaining, but Coach Bryan Petersen  elected to keep playing and let Byron Harp make a play to win the  game, just like Harp did in the national tournament last March.

"Byron Harp has been in a lot bigger games than this game," said  Petersen. "We're going to get the ball in his hands and trust him to  make the right play.

"Byron made a great decision and Ethan stepped up and was ready."

Harp made a move toward the basket, saw Meeker in the corner and fired  a pass on the money. With the pass still in the air, Meeker stepped  back from his defender to create a little extra space and was ready to  fire with a defender's hand in his face.

"That's something we do in practice all the time," he said. "Just kick  to the corner, and I happened to be the guy right there."

Meeker scored only four points during the first 39 1/2 minutes, but  he hit two clutch free throws with 23.3 seconds left for a 75-72 lead  and then hit the triple to win the game.

"Ethan's a tough kid," said Petersen. "We recruited him because we  knew he was a tough kid and obviously knew how to play. He's been a  winner all his career playing basketball.

"He wasn't playing great offensively, but that speaks a lot about his  character and how tough of a kid he is."

Meeker spread credit to all his teammates and had special praise for  Harp, and not just for the game-winning pass.

Harp also excelled on defense, holding Southwestern star Jordan  Johnson to just seven points. Johnson poured in 30 points when the  Spartans beat the Eagles last month, 94-83, and the Eagles knew they  had to do a much better job against him this time.

Harp complied.

"The player of the game, hands down, was Byron Harp," said Meeker. "If  he hadn't done that we wouldn't have even been in that position to win  the game."

If Southwestern had beaten Kirkwood Saturday, the conference race  would have been practically over. Now the two teams are tied with five  games left in the regular season.

If the Spartans and Eagles finish in a tie for first place, the  Spartans will get the No. 1 seed based on their overall record and  strength of schedule. That means Southwestern would host Kirkwood in  the regional finals if both teams get that far.

The regional champion will advance to the national tournament, but the  second-place team will be done for the year. Southwestern and Kirkwood  are undoubtedly two of the top teams in the country, but only one of  them will make the 16-team national tournament.

"It's frustrating as a coach," said Southwestern boss Todd Lorensen.  "I know how good Kirkwood is, but I also know how good we are. One of  us is going to be left out."

Kirkwood opened a 15-point lead in the first half, but Southwestern  pulled within four points at halftime. The Eagles opened an 11-point  lead in the second half, but the Spartans rallied and tied at 75-75.

Just when it looked like the game was headed for overtime, Harp and  Meeker made the winning play.

"They're the No.1 team in the country. They're not going to go away,"  said Meeker. "We tried to stay mentally tough.

"This team has put in a ton of work all the way back to September," he  said. "We've been through a lot. It feels good to see it paying off."

Now it's a fight to the finish.

"There's hope now," said Petersen. "We just have to handle what we can  control."

Harp led Kirkwood with 19 points. Miles Wentzien finished with 18  points and Chris King scored 11. The Eagles helped themselves  immensely by cashing 19 of 21 free throws.

Brodric Thomas, Jamil Maddred and KeShawn Wilson scored 12 points  apiece for Southwestern.

SOUTHWESTERN (75): B.Thomas 5 1-1 1, Maddred 5 1-3 12, Johnson 3 1-3  7, Chambers 1 4-4 6, Wilson 6 0-0 12, A.Thomas 4 0-0 9, Hightower 2  2-3 6, Edwards 1 3-4 5, Canada 2 2-3 6, Curtis 0 0-0 0. Totals 29  14-21 75.

KIRKWOOD (78): Triplett 3 0-1 6, Harp 6 4-4 19, Wentzien 5 7-7 18,  Meeker 3 2-2 9, C.King 3 3-3 11, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Fagan 3 1-2 7, Henry  0 2-2 2, D.King 3 0-0 6. Totals 26 19-21.

Halftime - Kirkwood 45, Southwestern 41. 3-point goals - Southwestern  3 (B.Thomas 1, Maddred 1, A.Thomas 1), Kirkwood 7 (Harp 3, C.King 2,  Wentzien 1, Meeker 1).

Last Updated ( Sunday, 12 February 2017 07:15 )  

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