The Griffon men came together to send coach Tom Smith out with a 72-58 win over Southwest Baptist as he patrolled the sidelines for the last time at the MWSU Fieldhouse after 25 years of calling the building home. "I was really relieved and it felt petty good," Smith said. "I just felt like I was in the dentist chair all game. I thought we had some pretty good possessions at the end and it was good to win this last game. I tried to tell myself it didn't mean anything, but it does." The win also guaranteed Smith would get to coach at least one more game as it clinched the final seed in the 12-team MIAA postseason tournament. Western improved to 10-16 overall and 6-12 in conference play. Fans stayed in their seats after the game to pay tribute to Smith as he took the mic and thanked everybody in an emotional moment. A large group of ex-players made the trip to Saint Joseph to celebrate with their coach. "The teary eyed stuff isnt because I'm leaving necessarily, but from seeing all of the players here," Smith said. "It means a lot because we are talking about kids who don't have a lot of money and everything else." The Griffons have played at a higher level on the road than at home this season, with a 1-6 record coming into the game. Smith stressed to his team before the game to ignore all the hoopla and celebration of his career and focus on the outcome of the game. "He wanted us to come out here and just play," guard Kalvin Balque said. "Amongst all the stuff that was going on today, he just wanted us to come out and get the win. If we would have lost, it would have hurt him." The Griffons wasted no time taking control of the game as they were up 22-11 after a Balque dunk, one of three on the afternoon. Western went into halftime with a 33-19 lead. Southwest Baptist was able to close the gap after some cold shooting from the Griffons, and cut it to 47-42 with five minutes to play. The Griffons got their focus back and made some big plays down the stretch to pull away for the win including two highlight-reel worthy alley-oops flushed home by Balque. "I get real amped after catching the oop and it gets the crowd and my teammates into it," Balque said. "I know I can go get it and dunk it, so that's what I do. Coaches want me to show off my athleticism." Cedric Clinkscales posted a double-double for the Griffons with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds. Clinkscales was named an honorable mention on the MIAA all-conference team. "Again, it's my teammates," Clinkscales said. "Once they seen that I was scoring then they kept getting it to me. Baptist wasn't playing me as aggersiive as some of the other teams in the conference has. They were on their heels." Balque added 17 points off the bench on 7-for-9 shooting and stole the ball two times. The game was also the last home game for seniors Alex Tuluka-Mfumupembe, Dylan Frantz. Both seniors made some strong hustle plays on the offensive glass and impacted the game on their final night at the Fieldhouse after spending two years in a Griffon uniform. "We always felt like we were the team that could beat other teams in this league," Clinkscales said. "It just wasn't happeneing for us, but now we need to seize this momentum going into the tournament."
[caption id="attachment_16231" align="aligncenter" width="491"] Junior Cedric Clinkscales goes up for a layup aginst the defenders from Nebraska-Kearney. Photo by JaQuitta Dever[/caption] Western men's basketball fell victim to hot three-point shooting by Nebraska-Kearney in the second half as they were defeated 75-70 at the MWSU Fieldhouse on Military Appreciation Day. The Griffons fell to 9-15 on the season and 5-11 in MIAA conference play. "Kearney played well and im not taking anything away from them, but in 25 years here this ranks as one of my toughest losses," coach Tom Smith said. "I'm really taken back by this. We just gave a team life that didn't think they had any life." Nebraska-Kearney hit 15 shots from 3-point distance including 9-for-16 in the second half. The Griffons went into the halftime break with a 32-27 lead, but two consecutive 3's by guard Thomas Cooper near the beginning of the second half gave the Lopers a 44-41 lead and never gave the lead back to Western. The Griffons have not had good results playing at home as their record at the MWSU Fieldhouse is just 1-6 in conference play. According the Smith, this is the first team in 25 years that doesn't play well at home. In the past, even in bad years, the fieldhouse has provided a home-court advantage for the Griffons. "This team cannot play at home," Smith said. "They can't take all the people and they cant take the hoopla. They couldn't take it. This is pathetic when we come out and give this kind of effort in front of this kind of crowd. We are actually intimidated by our own fans." Cedric Clinkscales led the Griffons with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting and added 10 rebounds. Clinkscales twisted his knee in the first half and was forced to sit out the last seven minutes before coming back to start the second half. "We got players who can step up and do their job, but it may have hurt us," Clinkscales said. "We have to defend their shooters. They got a lot of open 3's in the second half and then we gave up a lot of rebounds too. We have to execute,make shots and get defensive stops." Dylan Frantz scored 13 points on 5-for-9 from the field and added three assists while Reed Mells scored 10 points and dished out six assists. Kalvin Balque scored seven points while providing the highlight of the night when he dunked home a lob pass from Mells. Alfreeman Flowers scored eight points and added five rebounds. Western shot 51 percent from the field and 9-for-22 from 3-point distance. They struggled at the free-throw line, connecting on just three out of eight attempts. There are only two games left in the regular season for the Griffons and Smith in his final season as head coach. The final is a home game next Saturday against Southwest Baptist University at 3:30 p.m. The Griffons are currently in No. 11 out of the 12-team field for the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City, but could need a win in one of these last two games to guarantee their invite.
Minutes have been sparse for junior Jordan Yurth over his career at Western, but his opportunity to play came when Coach Tom Smith felt his team was playing soft mid-way through this season. It was a road game at Central Oklahoma where the Griffons found themselves down by double digits at halftime. Yurth did his best to motivate the team and contribute with the minutes he got and the team came back and won. He’s been part of the rotation ever since. “One of the things I talk about is toughness and I feel like Jordan helps us there,” Smith said. “He’s a tough kid that’s willing to take charges and stick his nose in there. His playing time has gone up as he’s gone along.” Yurth, a 6'4 swingman, was an all-city player in high school out of Lincoln, Neb. If it was playing time that he valued the most, he would have went to one of the NAIA schools that recruited him. Instead, he was more excited about playing for a hall of fame coach, even if he had to earn every minute he gets. “I feel like at the NAIA’s, I could have gotten more playing time, but I like Saint Joe and the people here. I like the coaching staff,” Yurth said. “This is a higher level and I knew that coming in. I knew that my opportunities would be harder to get but I looked at it like a challenge.” According to Smith, it is increasingly rare in this day and age to find a player willing to work hard in practice every day without any guarantee of playing time. In his experience, most of the time, a player will leave or decide that it’s not worth the daily grind of being a college basketball player with no reward. Yurth has been the exception to that. “I’ve just always tried to be there for the team off or on the court,” Yurth said. “I practice hard, try to get the guys motivated by me playing hard. This year, it’s nice to get some minutes because I know I can contribute.” When Smith took over making the substitutions from his assistant coach this year, he remembered Gary Hooper. Hooper’s dad was a star player while his son was less talented. The father told Smith that he could do what he wanted with his son, but that any kid that can practice with you day in and day out against your team, and you think your team is decent, can certainly play for a few minutes. That's something that Smith always had in the back of his mind when figuring out his substitution patterns. Aside from a good-looking jump shot, Smith commends Yurth for always keeping his morale high. He’s had kids who sulk when they don’t see the type of playing time they want, whereas Yurth does the opposite. “When he doesn’t get minutes, he’s supportive of the people playing,” Smith said. “He’s helping and he's talking to them and that’s another reason why he needs to be rewarded. Guys sitting there and just caring about themselves don’t need to be rewarded. Jordan needs to be rewarded.” When Yurth’s opportunities come, he does his best to seize them and is willing to help the Griffons win in any capacity. “I always feel confident when I go in, whether that’s playing defense or shooting the ball,” Yurth said. “I’m out there to make sure we do the best job possible on the court, to help out rebounding or whatever we need.” Smith first saw Yurth at a camp where he felt that he had the most potential of any player who wanted to try out. Yurth has shown steady improvement over his years at Western, practicing against some very talented players everyday. “I feel like what he has done over the last couple of years is he has practiced against enough good players that he’s become a better player,” Smith said. He might never play 25 minutes per night, but he continues to have a positive impact on the program in many ways. “I do it just for the love of the game,” Yurth said. “You don’t have to be the best player, but I like being around players and playing the game a lot.” Yurth is working on a double major at Western in management and marketing. Afterwards, he plans to pursue a master’s degree. He isn’t sure what he will do after that, but his plans displays the same work ethic and selflessness that he's become known for at Western.
[caption id="attachment_15697" align="alignleft" width="245"] Cedric Clinkscales goes up strong for two of his nine points in the paint. *Photo by Evan Roberts[/caption] Western men's basketball lost an overtime thriller 56-52 to Washburn University at the MWSU Fieldhouse. Washburn had revenge on its mind after being upset by the Griffons in Topeka last Wednesday, but it was Western dominating the early part of the game. Guard Reed Mells came out hot and was responsible for scoring the first five points of the game and seven of the first nine points for the Griffons, who were up 9-4. Western had a 13-point lead off an Alfreeman Flowers layup, but was unable extend the lead further despite an extremely cold shooting display by Washburn. The Ichabods shot just 26 percent in the first half and managed to score only 16 points. The Griffons struggled to create offense, but their defense allowed them to go into halftime with a 27-16 lead. “I think the game was decided by us not making anything while the sun shined in the first half,” coach Tom Smith said. “We had every opportunity to be up by 15 or 20 in the first half and we couldn't take advantage of it. Poor shot selection and turnovers hurt us.” While the Griffons had problems turning the ball over to start the second half, Washburn was finding its shooting stroke. The Ichabods went on a 11-0 run early in the half to take a 31-29 lead. The teams traded buckets right down to the end of the fourth quarter. With one minute to play, the Griffon defense forced a travel. On the offensive end, Kalvin Balque grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled with 2.3 seconds left to play. He missed the first free throw, but made the second to force overtime. Washburn big man Bobby Chipman hit a basket inside and then hit two free throws give the Ichabods a four point lead to start the overtime period and the Griffons couldn't respond on the offensive end. “I think we are getting better, just not closing out games,” Mells said. “We have a lot of talent and guys who want to play hard, but we are just inconsistent. It happens, but we can't afford it.” Western couldn't find its shot and hit at just 35 percent from the field for the game, a mark that Smith says will not win him very many games. “We should have won that game,” Smith said. “We were at home with every bit equal talent and they won the game. The tougher of the two teams won this game. They played tougher and with more confidence than we did tonight.” Mells led the Griffons in scoring with 12 points including two from 3-point distance while Alfreeman Flowers put in 10 points, including nearly hitting a full court shot at the buzzer of regulation that would have ended it. Dzenan Mrkaljevic was all over the glass for 15 rebounds as Western out-rebounded Washburn 43-34. “That was not two great teams out there tonight,” Smith said. “I felt like we played great at Topeka and as well as any team in the league, but we didn't tonight.” The Griffons are down to their last four regulation games before the MIAA tournament. [caption id="attachment_15695" align="alignnone" width="150"] Cedric Clinkscales, Junior, pushes the Washburn defense to stay on their toes. The Griffons come up short 56-52 in overtime. Evan Roberts | Photo Editor[/caption] [caption id="attachment_15697" align="alignnone" width="150"] Cedric Clinkscales gets two of his nine points in the paint, he added seven rebounds. Evan Roberts | Photo Editor[/caption] [caption id="attachment_15696" align="alignnone" width="150"] Cedric Clinkscales, Junior goes up for a rebound. The Griffons come up short 56-52 in overtime. Evan Roberts | Photo Editor.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_15694" align="alignnone" width="150"] Adarius Fulton, Junior, spins around Washburn defense to score a lay-up. The Griffons come up short 56-52 in overtime. Evan Roberts | Photo Editor[/caption]
Western men's basketball still has to pull out some wins to completely secure its spot as one of the 12 teams invited to the MIAA post-season tournament in Kansas City. "For us to be serious, I think we need another win against one of the contenders and beat Kearney(Nebraska) and Southern Baptist," coach Tom Smith said. With four games left to play, the Griffons find themselves clinging to the last spot in the tournament with a one-game lead over Truman State University. The Griffons will play in a hostile environment against rival Northwest Missouri State in Maryville on Feb. 20. The Bearcats are currently locked in to a three way tie for the No. 5 seed in the tournament and hold a three game lead over Western. However, Western holds a 1-0 record against this season as they pulled off an 71-58 upset over the Bearcats at the MWSU Fieldhouse. Western will return home on Feb. 23 to play Nebraska-Kearney who has only won three games in the conference this season and sit at second to last. Western also beat Kearney the only time that the two schools met this season 74-66. A tough road contest lies on Feb. 27 when the Griffons travel to Hays, Kan. to play Fort Hays State who is tied for first place in the conference. The Griffons played them tough in the first contest against Hays, but fell 84-74 in overtime. Seeding should be on the line for the last game of the season when Southwest Baptist comes to play at the MWSU Fieldhouse on March 2. Baptist holds only a one game lead over Western in the MIAA standings and the two teams haven't met up at all this season. The MIAA only has one team ranked in the top-25 nationally and none of the teams appear to be unbeatable heading into the final stretch of the season. "I can't ever recall this league not having one or two teams in the top-25," Smith said. "No one is just completely dominant and can go out there and overpower everybody. No matter what happens -- no matter where you go -- you have a chance and you may or may not play well but you have a chance." Smith has cut his rotation down to seven or eight players in preparation of the post season. For the players part, they don't want to be the team that didn't give Smith the opportunity to coach in one last postseason tournament before he retires after the season. "That's not how he wants to go out and we don't want the season to end like that," guard Reed Mells said. "We missed it last year and we all felt pretty bad about that so we don't want to miss it again. We just need to win as many gaems as we can. I think it's doable to make the tournament and we are more talented than our record shows, but this point in the season you are who you are so we just need to get in and try to be dangerous." The Griffons have struggled with consistency, but have shown improvement over the course of the season and are aiming to play their best basketball down the stretch. "Consistency is our biggest issue," Mells said. "I think we have games and practices where we take steps back or we don't get better which you can't afford, especially now, but overall I think weve been getting better."