ST. LOUIS – On a night when Park University's road woes looked like they were going to continue, three players from Indiana led the Pirates to a dominant stretch in the second half, led by 22 points from Xavielle Brown in a 73-70 win over Missouri Baptist University at MBU's Petty SRC in St. Louis.
But while Brown was the leading scorer on the night, for Park (16-5, 13-4 AMC), Zach Rutland had the biggest basket, on the game's final possession, burying a game-winning 3-pointer to reach 19 points with seven seconds to play in the Pirates' fifth-straight win.
"It was a big-time shot in a great game," said Park coach Jason Kline. "He's the kind of player who won't shy down from a big shot, and it took a lot of confidence in himself to take it. That's a big shot in the scope of our season and it's a big win for us in the conference standings."
The Pirates were able to get Pablo Hernandez to miss at the buzzer for MBU, as the Spartans fell to 14-11 (8-9 AMC) despite four in double digits, including Hernandez and Jahmouri Robinson, who led MBU with 14 points off the bench. The win also gave Park an extra game's edge in the conference standings, as Freed-Hardeman fell to Williams Baptist to drop a game and a half behind the Pirates with two weeks to go in the regular season.
Levi Mitchell was also one of Park's three in double figures with a dozen points, adding a game-high eight rebounds, and he scored the first two baskets in the second half, starting an 18-6 run that lasted more than six minutes, ending in a 3-pointer by Brown with 13:50 to go that gave Park its first lead of the game.
Missouri Baptist tied the game on its next possession when Robinson scored in the lane, but that basket was met with a 9-0 Park run to go in front 58-49, on a basket by Ikem Eriobuna with 11:01 to go. Rutland had Park's biggest lead of the game with 6:19 to go, scoring a pair to make it an 11-point game, up 68-57, but Park gave up a 13-2 run in to the final minute, when Robinson added his final basket of the game with 23 seconds to go, a score that looked like it might force overtime for a second-straight season between the two teams in St. Louis.
"Robinson was very, very good for them tonight, and I've been saying it all year but they're much better than a .500 team in conference," Kline said of Missouri Baptist. "They're well-coached, and I think it shows how good this league really is."
Missouri Baptist led for the entire first half, going up by as many as eight before a Dalton Rose 3-pointer kept Park in the game, starting a stretch that eventually had the Pirates within three, 21-18, on a pair of free throws from Brown. The Spartans looked like they were going to run away with the game late in the half, when Jared White completed a three-point play to make it a 16-point game, up 16 points with 2:27 before intermission.
Park ended the half on an 8-5 run, as Mitchell cut the lead to 10 with 42 seconds to go, trimming the MBU lead to 41-31 at the break.
Both teams were 45 percent from the floor, but Park used 11 made 3-pointers to offset only eight makes at the free-throw line. Park also lost the rebounding battle, 34-30, but forced the Spartans in to 13 turnovers.
"This was a good win for us, and while it's good to be coming back home Saturday, we can't make as many first-half mistakes and expect to get another win this week," Kline said. "We have to be a lot better Saturday."
The Pirates are 9-0 at home, this season, putting that streak on the line at 3 p.m., Saturday, against William Woods University at Breckon Sports Center. The game will air on the Pirate Sports Network at www.parkathletics.tv.