ST. LOUIS — Park University needed to make a statement Thursday night in St. Louis, putting a six-game winning streak on the line against one of the hottest teams in all of NAIA Division I Men's Basketball. The 23rd-ranked Pirates made their point with an 80-69 win over Harris-Stowe State University on a game-high 21 points from BJ Watson, 17 from Xavielle Brown, and an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double from center Ikem Eriobuna, Park's seventh-straight win, ending an eight-game winning streak for the Hornets.
The win pushed the Pirates to 18-5, but more importantly, it moved Park three games in front of both Central Baptist and Freed-Hardeman, as the Pirates are now 15-4 in the American Midwest Conference, while both CBC and FHU are tied for third place at 12-7 with three games to go in the regular season. The win also secured, at worst, a home playoff spot in the first round of next month's AMC Men's Basketball Championship.
"It's a big win because (Harris-Stowe) is one of the best teams in our conference over the last month and had really been gaining a lot of momentum," said Park coach Jason Kline of the Hornets, who are now 13-12 and 11-8 in the AMC. "They're a team fighting for a first-round home game in the playoffs, and they're very talented. I thought we did enough to answer their runs, and we did what we needed to do late in the game at the free-throw line to secure a win."
Park didn't trail in the game, which was the AMC Men's Basketball Game of the Week, opening on a 9-0 run keyed by six points in the first four minutes from Eriobuna. Levi Mitchell added a basket at the 15:07 mark in the first half to give the Pirates a double-digit advantage, but Harris-Stowe made its first run over the next four minutes, as Malik Wineglass, who led the Hornets with 18 points, scored to make it 16-14.
Harris-Stowe was within one with 3:12 left in the first, when Jordan Clarkson tripled, but the Pirates were able to outscore the Hornets 4-2 to the halftime horn, taking a 37-34 lead to intermission.
Mitchell buried a three less than 30 seconds in to the second half to make it 40-34, Watson made another two minutes later to go up 45-36, and Zach Rutland returned the lead to double-digits with 14:58 to play, extending the lead to 51-41.
The Hornets came back with another run, this time 7-0, and Clarkson hit another three to make it a one-possession game. Duane Minor tripled again for the Hornets at the 8:11 mark to make it 60-58, but the Hornets didn't get any closer, giving up a 9-0 run over the next five minutes, and Eriobuna put down two foul shots near the three-minute mark to take the lead back to 11, 69-58.
Park put all five starters in double figures, including 13 from Rutland and 10 for Mitchell, and the Pirates were an 83-percent free-throw shooting team on the night, while HSSU hurt itself at the line, only 7-for-16 (35 percent). Park also took advantage of 11-for-22 shooting from outside the arc, and the Pirates out-rebounded the Hornets in the game, 38-32.
The Pirates go back on the road for a final time in the regular season Saturday, at Lindenwood-Belleville, in a game that tips at 3 p.m., in Belleville, Illinois. Links to live video and live stats will be made available at www.parkathletics.com.