PARKVILLE, Mo. – For the second time in consecutive outings, the 25th-ranked Park University men's basketball team let a double-digit first-half lead slip, but Thursday, the Pirates were able to hang on, turning away Harris-Stowe State University 73-71 on a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double for senior Xavielle Brown and a team-best 16 points from BJ Watson, who made three baskets from above the 3-point arc.
Harris-Stowe had the game's last possession, but Levi Mitchell's steal at the top of the key secured the game for Park (8-3), which kept pace in the American Midwest Conference, staying in a second-place tie with two league losses at 5-2. Harris-Stowe (4-9, 2-5) further buried itself in the league standings, despite a game-high 22 points off the bench from Jalen Fletcher, one of three Hornets in double digits on the night.
The Pirates built a big lead in the first half, going on a 9-0 run to split a 5-all tie, leading 14-5 when Watson scored with 13:38 in the first half. The lead later hit 10, and then 11, on two free throws for Brown at the 12:10 mark, but over the next five minutes, the Hornets slashed at the Park lead, eventually cutting it to two, 20-18 with 7:31 in the half, on a basket by Trevor Roberts.
Later down 28-20, Harris-Stowe used a 9-1 run and tied the game at 29 on two points in the paint from Michael Gragg at the 2:00 mark, a minute and five seconds before Dalton Rose sent Park to intermission up one, 30-29, making a foul shot inside the half's final minute.
"We seem to really have a hard time holding on to a big lead once we get one in the first half, right now," said Park coach Jason Kline. "We did not shoot the ball well at all in the first half. I thought we did a better job of it in the second half, but we did enough to let Harris-Stowe back in that they were confident the rest of the night."
Kline's Pirates did shoot the ball better in the second half, 59.3 percent compared to 23.3 percent in the first, but early in the second, it was the Hornets in command, up four when Malik Wineglass converted a turnover in to a pair in the lane to make it 36-32.
Tyrone Alston later had Harris on top 42-39, tripling with 15:14 left in the game, but Watson answered with a crucial three-point play on the other end, driving from the left corner, on the baseline to the basket for two, fouled by Jamaal Hinton with 15:05 to go. Watson made the free throw, and later gave Park a four-point lead with back-to-back 3-pointers, as Park led 48-44 with 12:54 to play.
Harris-Stowe was able to tie the game twice, for the final time with 5:44 to go on two points by Alston, and although the Hornets got within one five more times, a big defensive stop by Noel Surles at the 1:07 mark changed the tide in the game. Surles poked away Jeremy Franklin's pass, leading to two in the lane for Brown with 41 seconds to go, giving the Pirates a three-point, 69-66 lead in the final minute.
Fletcher had the Hornets back within one a final time with 30 seconds to go, draining a three, but free throws by Brown and Zach Rutland, who was also in double figures with 15 points, secured the game for the Pirates, who finished the night 22-of-28 at the foul line, half of those makes coming from Brown, who was 11-for-13.
"We are certainly not playing our best right now, but you have to hand it to Harris-Stowe's effort tonight," Kline said. "They're talented, and they have a chance to do some damage in this conference in the second half of the season. We have some things to work on. We have to execute better and make better choices with the basketball. But, it's good to come out with a win."
The week gets tougher Saturday afternoon, for the Pirates, who host Lindenwood-Belleville at 3 p.m. The Lynx had a night off in the league schedule while their women played Stephens College, coming in to Saturday's game at 11-13 overall, but 5-2 in the AMC, tied with the Pirates at 5-2, as well as Central Baptist (6-2) and William Woods (7-2) in the loss column.
Saturday's game is scheduled to air on the Pirate Sports Network at www.parkathletics.com.