by M. B. Miller, ALC News
The Alice Lloyd Eagles came into their Final Four matchup riding the high of having won the program’s first conference tournament game in 16 years. Playing in front of a home crowd at the Grady Nutt Athletic Center, the Eagles fought their second-ranked opponent for a spot in the championship, but couldn’t withstand the power of CCU’s big men, falling 77-56.
Prior to this game, Alice Lloyd had split their season series with Cincinnati Christian, the last meeting ending in a loss for ALC. CCU had also undergone some changes in the latter part of the season, specifically having added some size inside. With a natural post player like CCU’s Kenny Gaynor to keep opportunities limited down low, ALC knew they would have to rely on the strength of senior guards Wilson and Stamper to get the offense flowing.
First half action saw Cincinnati Christian come out firing the ball inside, reeling off 8 straight points in the paint. Alice Lloyd stayed with their opponents, hitting open shots and fighting for looks inside. By the 8:45 mark, CCU was only leading by 1 at 14-13, but within a couple of minutes, they had stretched the lead to six (20-14) by keeping ALC off the boards and making them pay in transition. The visiting Eagles were also able to get great inside-outside play, their guards getting into rhythm and pushing the lead out to 25-16 on a trey from Mitch McLeish with 4:22 remaining in the half. It was also at this point that Alice Lloyd forward Tyler Rogers went to the bench with his second foul, further complicating things in the paint for the home team.
As the time dwindled down to 1:30, baskets from Malicoat and Stamper had given ALC some life, bringing the score to 29-21. However, a three and four quick points off turnovers for CCU stretched their lead out again to 36-21. At 15.7 seconds left on the clock, Alice Lloyd was finally able to draw a foul on CCU’s Gaynor. Isaac Wilson drained both shots at the line, adding to his previous make at the stripe just moments before, to make it 36-24.
Cincinnati Christian ended the half on a positive note for their club, connecting on a shot with 5 ticks left to take a 38-24 advantage at intermission.
As the teams headed to the locker rooms, it was evident that ALC needed to find an answer to the puzzle in the paint, having been beaten bad in the post and on the boards by CCU’s Gaynor and McKinney. Alice Lloyd was also unable to get anything going offensively, hitting only 30% of their field goals.
The second half opened with more tough play inside. ALC got a couple of free points at the line from Stamper, but at 17:30, CCU produced a spectacular play, ending with an emphatic dunk by big man Willie McKinney. The score was now 42-26, and Alice Lloyd was feeling the pressure.
Moments later, CCU guard Mike Hill would pick up his third foul, sending him to the bench. Without Hill‘s quickness, Alice Lloyd saw a potential opportunity to get some production out of their offense. At 16:40, ALC’s Cody Stumbo got a much-needed basket inside, which made the score 44-30. Unfortunately for the six-seed Eagles, they would get no closer to their opponents. Turnovers and an inability to rebound the ball, especially on offense, stripped away any hopes of ALC mounting any sort of comeback.
After a huge jam by Gaynor at the 11:45 mark, the score was 54-33, and the Eagles’ fighting spirit was all but completely diminished.
As they had done the entire game, Cincinnati Christian pounded the ball into the post and led by 29 points with 2:40 remaining in the contest. Shortly afterward, ALC head coach J. R. Hammond elected to take out seniors Wilson and Stamper. The veteran guards received a standing ovation. With the bench emptied, Alice Lloyd watched its championship hopes disappear as CCU claimed a spot in Saturday’s final, winning 77-56.
For ALC, the team finishes the season at 15-15 overall, 9-10 in conference play. Senior Stuart Stamper led the team with 14 points, and sophomore Cody Malicoat picked up 13 points to go with 8 rebounds. Junior forward Cody Stumbo fought hard in the paint to claim 11 points and 7 rebounds. The other senior on the roster, Isaac Wilson, finished with 7 points. Tyler Rogers, normally a presence inside for the Eagles, was held to only 3 points and 3 rebounds, which speaks to CCU’s total dominance in the paint.
Cincinnati Christian improves to 19-13 overall on the season and 12-7 in conference play. The Eagles received excellent performances from center Gaynor and wingman Mitch McLeish, both finishing with 16 points. Willie McKinney had 14 points.
All but two of CCU’s players picked up rebounds in the ballgame, beating ALC on the boards 46-35. Alice Lloyd simply could not produce any rhythm or flow on offense, hitting only 28% of their shots for the game. Cincinnati Christian was hot the entire game, connecting on 47% of its field goals.
CCU will face the winner of #1 IU Southeast and #5 Berea College on Saturday, March 1st, at 3:30 PM. The game will be played at Alice Lloyd’s Grady Nutt Athletic Center.