Bluffton 78, Manchester 67
Cunningham goes over 1,000 career points in 78-67 win at Manchester
By: Aaron Mass, sports information assistant
January, 28, 2009
NORTH MANCHESTER, Indiana - The Bluffton University men's basketball team won back-to-back games in the HCAC as it was victorious on the road against Manchester College, 78-67. The win gave the Beavers a season sweep over the Spartans and moved Bluffton's record to 12-7 overall and 6-4 in the HCAC. Manchester's record dipped to 8-11, 3-7 (HCAC). The victory at Stauffer-Wolfe Arena was the first there for Bluffton since February 22, 2005, in the HCAC conference tournament. The contest was the only HCAC men's matchup of the evening due to the inclement weather.
The visitors got into the scoring column on their first possession of the night when junior Josh Eichar (North Baltimore) got to the rack for a layup. Senior Aaron Taylor (Antwerp) then hit consecutive triples to knot the score at eight just over four minutes in. He hit another three-ball 2:39 later, his third in a row, to give Bluffton a 15-13 advantage at the 13:19 mark of the opening half.
Manchester converted a turnover into a layup at the other end for a two-point margin. The home team held a lead for over eight minutes. Consecutive Bluffton threes tied the game at the 2:44 mark of the half. The first was from senior Nick Wilson (Continental). The Beavers finally tied the game (32-32) on a three-point bomb by freshman guard Mychal Hill (London/Jonathan Alder).
Manchester took the lead right back on a jumper by Matt Morris just 23 seconds later. The Beavers responded with a Wilson putback to tie it. Eichar's theft led to another point blank basket for freshman post Brent Farley (Lima/Shawnee), making the score 36-34. This gave the Beavers their first lead since the score was 15-13.
Wilson scored at the rim with 10 ticks left to tie the game, 38-38, at the half. The Bluffton bench scored 21 of the team's 38 first-half points. The game's first 20 minutes saw seven ties and nine lead changes.
The first three minutes of the second half changed the entire complexion of the ballgame. Bluffton stormed out of the locker room with nine straight points to take a 47-38 advantage. The run was started by Taylor's fourth long ball of the evening. Bluffton never trailed again in the contest. Four different players got baskets for the Beavers during the 9-0 surge. The push consisted of Bluffton turning up the defensive pressure to the tune of four Spartan turnovers.
Manchester cut the lead to four (49-45) with 11:43 left, but Taylor scored a layup on an offensive rebound to make it a six-point game. He then snared one of his six boards, leading to a Wilson jumper and 53-45 Bluffton lead.
The lead was seven (56-49) when Wilson plowed through a Manchester defender for an old-fashioned three-point play with 8:54 remaining in the contest.
Burt Jairus's trey pulled the home team to within 61-58 at 5:48. Cunningham dropped a pass off to senior post Josiah Stober (Spencerville), then Wilson hit both tries at the charity stripe. Manchester responded both times with two foul shots and a Jason Spindler jumper. His make cut the Bluffton advantage to one possession, 65-62 at the 4:23 mark.
A crucial play in the ballgame came when the Beavers got an offensive rebound and Stober kicked it out to Cunningham for a huge three-ball which pushed the lead back to six points (68-62) with 3:38 left. Manchester quickly responded with a bucket following an offensive rebound, prompting a timeout from head coach Guy Neal with 2:51 to go.
Out of the timeout, Cunningham again came up big. The senior captain hit his second three in a row, giving the Beavers a comfortable seven-point cushion with just 2:34 left in the game. The Spartans never got any closer for the remainder of the contest.
Bluffton hit just 5-of-8 from the line in the final 1:41, but the visitors really buckled down on the other end in forcing the Spartans into five straight missed shots. A three by Jordan Moss with 14 seconds left was the only Manchester basket in the final 2:58 of the contest. Bluffton outscored Manchester 40-29 in the final stanza.
As has been the story this year, all three of Bluffton's players that reached double figures were seniors. Aaron Taylor and Nick Wilson each had 16, and Wilson's efforts came off the bench. Taylor hit all four of his attempts from long distance and he also hauled in six boards. Cunningham was not far behind with 14 points, six rebounds and he led the team with five assists. His first basket in the second stanza put him over the 1,000 point mark during his career at Bluffton. The trio combined to drain 17 of Bluffton's 28 made field goals, including 7-of-12 from beyond the arc.
Manchester was led by monstrous 6-10 freshman center Jason Spindler. He had 14 points, five boards and four blocks. The only other Manchester player to reach double-digits was Nathan Ferch with 10 points.
Bluffton shot 28-of-53 from the floor (52.8 percent) compared to 26-for-56 by Manchester (46.4 percent). Bluffton hit four more threes than the Spartans (9-5), and the Beavers drained an impressive 13-of-17 from the charity line (76.5 percent). Both teams did a great job of taking care of the basketball as Bluffton tied a season-low with a meager eight turnovers compared to 10 by the Spartans. However, Manchester's four miscues in a row to start the second half proved to be the difference.
The Bluffton University men continue the HCAC slate with a huge road game at Franklin College this Saturday, January 31, 2009. The Beavers will try to avenge a 92-81 home loss back on December 13. Saturday's contest against the Grizzlies will tip at approximately 4 p.m. following the women's game.