In the position that the North Central College men’s basketball team is in now, every game is approaching must-win status.
Still, the Cardinals let one slip away Saturday against Carthage.
North Central had the game tied in the final minutes, but the Red Men made just enough plays down the stretch to hand the Cardinals a tough 54-49 CCIW loss.
It drops NCC to 10-10 overall and 3-6 in the CCIW.
“We’re pretty much in desperation mode now after losing this one,” NCC guard Brandon Williams said. “We have to win out now.”
Building on the momentum of Wednesday’s upset win over 14th-ranked Augustana in Rock Island, the Cardinals came out strong against the CCIW co-leaders from Carthage (14-6, 7-2). Williams’ three-pointer with 14 seconds left in the first half gave the Cardinals a 28-27 lead at the intermission.
But foul trouble started to affect the game in the second half. Without much frontcourt depth behind Jack Burchett and Landon Gamble, the Cardinals had to go small with both on the bench with four fouls. But the smaller lineup held down the fort until the big men came back in the game with about five minutes left.
“People just came in and worked hard,” Williams said. “Kevin Honn did a great job. We’ll need that the rest of the season.”
Honn scored seven straight NCC points off the bench during an 11-3 spurt that tied the game at 48-48 with 3:18 left. Pat Rourke’s three-point play capped that stretch.
“We actually shortened the lead (with Burchett and Gamble out),” NCC coach Todd Raridon said. “It was tied when we brought our bigs back in. Kevin gave us a great spark. I was really impressed with what Kevin did. He was aggressive.”
In the final 3:18, Carthage outscored the Cardinals 6-1 to hang on for the win. The Red Men dominated from the free-throw line. They hit 20-of-25, including 6-of-8 at the end. Conversely, the Cardinals shot only 10-of-18.
“In our losses, every team we’ve played has shot more free throws than we have,” Raridon said. “The free throws we shot, we didn’t shoot them well, and they did.”
The Cardinals did a great job defensively, limiting Carthage to 32.6-percent shooting from the field. Senior Malcom Kelly, who averages 20.2 points, led Carthage with 16. Reese Herth added 10.
Williams tied a season high with 14 points to lead North Central. Vince Kmiec added 12. Hampered by foul trouble, Burchett and Gamble combined to score nine points. Honn scored nine off the bench.