Wade Steinlage, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications
OSKALOOSA – The first ever men’s basketball matchup between Park and William Penn in league play closed out the 2020 part of the schedule for the Statesmen on Tuesday night. The Pirates, who entered the season receiving votes in the NAIA coaches’ poll, held their own in the first half. But it was all WPU from there and the Statesmen, for the first time in program history, are undefeated at the Christmas break. The 110-81 victory puts William Penn at 11-0 on the year, 9-0 in Heart of America Athletic Conference play.
Park was not intimidated by the high-flying Statesmen and showed their mettle over the first seven minutes. They plowed in after the tip for the first basket of the game but Q Cager (Sr., Hopkinsville, Ky., Wellness & Recreation) answered with a pair of free-throws. From there, Park went on a 12-2 run, as Nathan Gehring (Sr., Waukee, Iowa) had the only WPU basket during the first few minutes.
The navy and gold started to build back from the 14-4 deficit with the first bucket of the night for Kevion Blaylock (Sr., Houston, Texas, Information Technology). Josh Watkins (Sr., Chicago, Ill., Sports Management) struck for his first three on the ensuing possession to make the score 14-9. The Pirates were able to swing things back their way with a 5-2 run as the game passed the six-minute mark.
The Statesmen thought they had reset the scoreboard as the slimmed the lead down to just 22-20 at the midway point of the period but Park kept advancing. A score by Karmari Newman (Sr., Detroit, Mich., Digital Communication) on the baseline and a three from Brandon Faison (Sr., Charlotte, N.C., Sports Management) helped but the Pirates leapt back out to a seven-point advantage.
After the media timeout, WPU rolled off five straight to knot things at 27. A quick three by Park gave them a lead again but Blaylock rose up and pushed the ball home as he got fouled, tying the game again on the and-one conversion.
Even at 30-points apiece, the final five-minutes belonged to the Statesmen as they punctuated the frame with a 20-8 streak to end the half. Chanze Cruesoe (So., St. Louis, Mo., Business Management) made the first points with a nice lay-in. Ahmad Pender (Sr., Chicago, Ill, Wellness & Recreation) made his first shot of the game during the stretch while Blaylock swooshed a couple threes and made three free-throws to end the half.
Up 50-38, the Statesmen ended the first frame shooting the ball at a 47.2% clip while Park was 37.1%. The navy and gold also held a slim 21-20 rebounding edge. Blaylock led all scorers with 17.
The second half started in a similar way to the first, with Park netting the first basket. But this time, WPU was locked-in and ready. Gehring restored a 10-point lead 90 seconds into the half before some free-throws rolled the lead up to 17 at 59-42.
Five minutes into the second half and the teams continued to exchange makes, with the score sitting at 63-46. Eddie Daley (Sr., DeWitt, Mich., Business Management) helped out with a big dunk to start a three-minute scoring feast by the Statesmen. Watkins knocked down three downtown blasts in a row as the lead bloomed into a 30-point advantage with nine-minutes to go.
Up 84-54, WPU pilled on the points again the rest of the way. Park found a good phase with six-minutes to go to swipe a few points off the lead, but the navy and gold would not let them close as they rolled away to the 110-81 decision.
Blaylock was dominate again as he racked up 23 points on the night along with five rebounds. Watkins was 5-11 from deep to deliver 15 points while Newman had 14. Faison added 13 and led the squad with five assists while Cager had 10 points.
Daley paced the lineup with 10 rebounds and just missed the double-double as he came home with eight points. Thomas Stanley (Fr., Henderson, Nev.) was perfect on the night, going 3-3 with two deep shots for eight points.
“We’ve never had a men’s basketball team undefeated at the holiday break,” said Head Coach John Henry. “It’s even better considering what this team has endured just to play and be healthy. I’m just so very proud of the players and coaches. We are going to enjoy this break.”
After the break, the Statesmen (for now) will be away for games against Baker on January 6 and Peru State on January 9.