Considering they allowed 108 points Saturday afternoon, Beloit College’s Buccaneers weren’t expecting a lot of kudos for defense.
Only that would be a mistake because when the game was on the line, somehow the home team found away to send Grinnell’s prolific scoring machine home empty-handed.
The Pioneers — despite a 52-point effort by Division III scoring champion Jack Taylor — were held scoreless the final minute and 45 seconds and that allowed the surprising Bucs to escape with a 118-109 Midwest Conference victory at Flood Arena.
“The guys did a great job of locking in down the stretch,” said Beloit head coach Brian Vraney, who saw his team improve to 2-0. “We definitely have some things to correct, but the guys played with a lot of heart and energy.”
Taylor was 11-of-24 from beyond the 3-point line, but had trouble squaring up after his two free throws drew Grinnell within 114-109 with 1:45 left.
“I thought we’d played pretty good defense on him before that,” Vraney said. “He hit a lot of tough shots. I thought switching up the guy guarding him might help a little at the end. We put (Andrew) Bremner on him and (Taylor) had trouble getting his shot.”
The 5-foot-10 senior missed twice and the Pioneers used most of the shot clock on another possession trying to get him open before settling for a miss by a teammate. Each misfire was gobbled up by a Beloit rebounder and four times the Bucs were fouled at the other end. Steve McAfee, Mike Gulve, Rudy Bentley and McAfee again stepped to the line and each time hit 1-of-2 free throws.
Generally, with the Pioneers draining treys at every turn, that could be a recipe for disaster. But the Pioneers were cold at the finish.
So the Bucs are 2-0 and 1-0 in MWC play heading into another battle with a team picked to finish in the top four, Carroll University, on Tuesday in Waukesha.
Opponents have to start taking the Bucs as a serious threat.
“We’re picked to finish eighth, but we’re way better than that,” said 6-5 McAfee, who dropped a career-high 43 on the Pioneers and had 16 rebounds. “We have better depth. We’re in better condition. We’re just a better team than we were a year ago.”
McAfee said he didn’t go into the game expecting a career game in terms of scoring. Seven of his boards were on the offensive end. He was 15-of-20 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line.
“I just wanted to put the ball in the basket and help my team,” he said. “The ball seemed to land in my lap a lot under the basket.”
McAfee also got plenty of help. Alex Hade chipped in 19 points and 10 rebounds while Bentley had 14 points and six assists and Michael Gulve added 13.
The Bucs, who led 69-64 at the break, outrebounded the Pioneers 57-38 and outscored them at the free-throw line, 32-19. The Bucs shot a whopping 45 free throws.
“One of the things we wanted to concentrate on was keeping them off the foul line and we did that pretty well,” Vraney said. “We committed 27 turnovers, but a lot of them were in dead-ball situations. What you don’t want to see is a turnover and they quickly make a basket in transition.”
• NOTES: McAfee’s 43 points are the fifth-most in Beloit history. ...Grinnell did hit 20-of-60 3-pointers compared to Beloit’s 4-of-8. The Bucs hit 60.3 percent (41-68) while the Pioneers converted just 38.9 (35-90), but they did hit 20-of-60 3-pointers compared to Beloit’s 4-of-8. .