Mckendree Getting Focused on Conference Tourney

By Boone, Kevin E. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

Mckendree Getting Focused on Conference Tourney


Boone, Kevin E., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Harry Statham doesn't dwell on his achievements; he finds ways to embellish them.

This explains Statham's McKendree College Bearcats' 21-5 mark - and No. 22 ranking in the latest National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics poll. The Bearcats, of Lebanon, Ill., are having a fine basketball season.

"We have a very good team," said Statham, 57, in his 29th season at McKendree. He boasts 625 career victories, the most for all active NAIA coaches.

McKendree started the season 13-1, but an 8-4 mark the second semester has cast a pall over the Bearcats' future. Well, sort of.

If McKendree can right its course by March 2 - that's when the American Midwest Conference Tournament begins - it figures to be formidable down the stretch. The AMC winner gets an automatic bid to the NAIA national tourney, and McKendree has been there three times.

With its 8-4 mark in league play, McKendree is fighting for a high seed in the AMC Tournament, trailing only first-place Columbia College (24-4, 9-1) and second-place Missouri Baptist (13-12, 6-3). Columbia is ranked 13th nationally.

Balance has keyed McKendree's attack, led by its latest 1,000-point career scorer, Eejuan Riddle. A 6-6, 210-pound senior from O'Fallon High, Riddle also is closing in on 1,000 rebounds. He averages 11 points and 10 rebounds.

The other big stick is Jon Kraus, a 6-0 guard who surpassed 1,000 points last year as a sophomore and was named the AMC player of the week. In three games, the Okawville product scored 65 points, handed out 12 assists and notched seven steals.

He is McKendree's leading scorer - and No. 2 in the AMC behind Park College's Beville Taitte at 21.5 points - with an average of 19.9 points a game.

Marc Derwort, a 6-6 forward from Gibault, averages 14 points and eight rebounds, while 3-point specialist Brian O'Neill is averaging 12 points a game and shooting 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

East St. Louis High graduate Fernando Stevenson, a 6-1 guard, averages 11 points, while Scott Brennan brings quality minutes - and a shooting touch of 48.5 percent on 3-pointers - off the bench.

Losing two freshmen as academic casualties has taken some of the roar out of the Bearcats, but they hope to restore it in time for the AMC tournament.

A key game is 7:30 p.m. Saturday when McKendree plays host to Missouri Baptist.

The house will be packed. The game will be a rematch of sorts; last year, McKendree finished 26-8, losing in the AMC tournament final to Missouri Baptist 86-81.

"We feel like we have a good shot at getting the No. 2 seed if we can win the rest of our games, but every game is important now," Statham said.

Bullish Bears: The Washington University basketball team is thriving, having captured the University Athletic Association championship and, consequently, an automatic NCAA Division III tournament bid. …

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