Men’s basketball wins first conference game at Evangel

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

After starting the Heart of America Athletic Conference schedule with two losses, the men’s basketball team bounced back with an 85-80 victory at Evangel on Wednesday night. Sophomore Gregg Easter’s 18 second-half points put Baker into the win column for the first time over Evangel in six tries.

After scoring only two points in the first half, Easter nailed four three-pointers in the second half. Easter continued to knock down big shot after big shot to propel Baker down the stretch.

Baker trailed Evangel 40-36 at the half, but the Wildcats showed that they weren’t going down without a fight. Easter’s big second half, as well as the team knocking down 57 percent of its shots in the second period, kept Baker in the game. The Wildcats forced 15 Evangel turnovers and simply outplayed the reigning conference champs down the stretch.

In the final 25 seconds sophomore Dan Young was called for an offensive foul with an 82-80 lead. But Young played strong defense on Evangel’s next possession and forced a missed shot. Young knocked down five of his six free throws in the final minutes to secure Baker’s win.

Junior Javeion Gray scored 14 points, Young scored 13, senior Nick Wilson scored 9 and junior Taylor Johnson also played strong off the bench with 8 points.

Baker is now 4-5 overall and 1-2 in the Heart.

After their opening two conference losses, the Wildcats played three non-conference games. Baker beat Haskell 92-83 on Nov. 24 to start Thanksgiving break but then dropped games at the St. Gregory’s Thanksgiving Classic to St. Gregory’s and MidAmerica Christian.

Gray was the leading scorer in Baker’s 90-87 loss to St. Gregory’s with 15 points and 7 assists in only 19 minutes. In the loss to MidAmerica Christian, Gray scored 21 points and passed out 10 assists. Young was the team’s leading scorer in that game with 22 points off the bench, going 6-8 from the field and 8-10 from the stripe.

Coming into Wednesday’s conference matchup with Evangel, Gray was the team’s leading scorer with 14.3 points per game. Gray was the only Wildcats to average scoring in double figures. Gray also leads the team in assists and rebounds.

Although the Wildcats have only one scorer in double digits, they have eight players with more than 7.5 per game.

The Wildcats have made threes better than they have in the past two seasons. As a team, Baker is shooting 39 percent from downtown. Freshman Clae Martin is knocking down threes at 48 percent, junior Tyrome Parker is hitting at 47 percent, junior Taylor Johnson at 41 percent, and senior Manny Barnes at 37 percent.

The Baker defense has struggled to slow the opposing offense down this season. With the 30-second shot clock, most teams are scoring more points per game this season. The Wildcat defense is giving up 83 points per game after only allowing 68 per game in 2014-15. Conversely, Baker only scored 64 points per game last season and now the Wildcats are scoring 81 per contest.

Against Avila, a team that was scoring nearly 100 points per game, Baker held the Eagles to 82 points in an 82-66 loss. The Wildcats led Avila 59-56 with less than eight minutes to play, but Avila went on a scoring spree, finishing the game on a 26-7 run.

The men host the Missouri Valley Vikings at 4 p.m. on Saturday in the Collins Center. The Vikings are also coming off an upset victory over Benedictine 83-68 on Wednesday night.