FREMONT, Neb. – Midland University’s men’s basketball team began its 2019-2020 campaign on Saturday night with a closely-contested opening game versus the Bethany College Swedes.
The Warriors (0-1) let a 10-point halftime lead slip away as a layup at the buzzer from Bethany’s Ray Miller sent the Swedes (1-0) back to Lindsborg, Kansas with a 1-0 record to start their season.
With under 20 seconds left and the game and the score tied at 78-78, Midland decided to try and hold the ball for one final shot. Sophomore guard Malik Martin drove to hoop, but missed a contested jumper with four seconds to play. Bethany’s point guard Isiah Saenz grabbed the rebound and took off down the floor.
Saenz passed off to Miller who never broke stride as he raced down the right side of the court and finished the layup just as the clock hit zero. Miller’s final bucket finished off a solid day for the junior as he totaled 10 points, three rebounds, three blocks, two steals, and two assists.
In their first action of the season, the Warriors got off to a slow start and found themselves down by as many as 10 midway through the first half. A three-pointer from Martin with just under nine minutes to play in the half sparked a 12-2 run for Midland that brought them back to a tie with close to six minutes to play.
Junior Ryan Williams took over for Midland in the final four minutes of the half as the forward caught fire from behind the arc. Williams sank four three-pointers and scored 16 of Midland’s final 18 points in the half, catapulting the Warriors to a 48-38 lead at the break.
In his first action in nearly a year, Williams led the Warriors with 31 points in the game while also grabbing seven rebounds.
Williams’ hot streak was big for the Warriors, but they couldn’t keep that pace going into the second half. The shots didn’t fall for Midland out of the break, and the Swedes quickly got back into the game with an 18-5 run to open the half, putting them up 56-53.
Bethany’s second-half lead grew to as high as six points with close to seven minutes to play, but a pair of free throws from sophomore Bowen Sandquist sparked an 8-1 run to put Midland back in front. That run got the offense going as the Warriors managed to grow a six point lead of their own as Sandquist knocked down a three-pointer with just over two minutes to play.
That three-pointer from Sandquist would be Midland’s final field goal of the game as the Swedes came storming back. Three-pointers from Saenz and Miller, along with a free throw for Dalton Smyres, put the Swedes up 78-77 with a minute to go.
Freshman Kylan Smallwood sank a free throw with 50 seconds remaining to tie the game back up at 78-78, and the Warriors got a stop of the defensive end to set up what they planned on being the last shot of regulation. Instead, the speedy players for the Swedes took it down the floor and stunned the Warriors and the crowd at the Wikert Event Center to start 2019-20 off in hectic fashion.
Lavaris Duncan led the Swedes with 16 points of 7-for-9 shooting from the field while Saenz notched a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists. Aside from Williams, the only other Warrior in double figures was freshman guard Jake Rueschhoff, who finished with 10 points and six assists.
Despite shooting just 34.3 percent (23-for-67) from the field, the Warriors were in it until the end, thanks in part to outrebounding the Swedes 49-31. For a team without a single senior on the roster and an eight-man rotation with just four returning players, the Warriors showed a lot of determination down the stretch, but also learned valuable lessons in closing out competitive games.
It’s a long season, and the Warriors have lots of potential.
Midland is back in action next Saturday, October 26, when the Warriors take on Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina, Kansas at 7:00 p.m.