INDIANOLA — Two former Creston players had key contributions down the stretch to help the Central College men’s basketball team clinch a spot in the six-team Iowa Conference Tournament Wednesday in an 80-76 victory over Simpson College.
Senior center Spencer Bakerink and freshman forward Colby Taylor each scored nine points and grabbed four rebounds as the Dutch improved to 14-6 overall and 7-2 in the conference, just behind leader University of Dubuque at 8-1.
Despite staging a furious second-half rally from a 14-point deficit to forge a 76-76 tie with 1:05 left, Simpson fell to 3-17 overall and 1-8 in conference play.
Bakerink and Taylor, both starters for coach Craig Douma, former Carroll coach, were involved in the action that broke the tie in the final seconds.
With only 20 seconds remaining and Simpson in possession with a chance to take the lead, Bakerink corralled a loose ball for a steal and pitched it to guard Kevin Kaerwer. Taylor, meanwhile, was bolting downcourt from the free throw area after noticing his team was capturing the ball.
“Matt (Greenfield) tipped it, I got it and we got it up to Colby to finish it,” Bakerink said.
Taylor scored what amounted to the winning basket with 17 seconds left on a fast break layup.
“Right when Spencer got the steal and passed it up to Kev, I knew there wasn’t enough people on defense to guard us all,” Taylor said. “Right after I scored I saw there was still 17 seconds left, so we still had to play some good defense.”
Taylor contested a shot to tie it again by Simpson’s Charles Swain, partially blocking it. Central guard Nile Eckerman was fouled after taking possession, sealing the win with two free throws with 1.5 seconds left for the final 80-76 score.
“We defended really well in the final two possessions,” Douma said. “Colby made them take a tough shot, they missed it and Nile came up with the rebound. It was a great defensive stand. Colby can do that. His length has given some people fits at the three spot.”
Douma praised the contributions of the two former Creston preps in a season shaping up to be the best since the NCAA tournament season of 2010, when Bakerink was a senior for the Panthers.
“I like those Creston kids,” Douma said. “I’ve coached against them in the past. Spencer gives us a lot of intangibles that don’t always show up in the box scores. He gets rebounds, and he has a nice jump hook. Colby has stepped up as a good-sized three. He rebounds well, defends well and knows his role.”
Taylor played 29 minutes Wednesday. Bakerink, saddled with foul problems, was on the floor for 22 minutes.
For the season, Bakerink is averaging 5.2 points and 5.2 rebounds. He’s shooting 56 percent from the field. Taylor averages 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds. He has made 19 of 57 3-point shots (33 percent) and shoots 81 percent at the free throw line.
The team is led by Greenfield, a senior forward from Ballard of Huxley, averaging 18 points. He netted 23 points Wednesday against Simpson, which took the Dutch to overtime in a previous loss at Pella.
Bakerink, scheduled to graduate in May with a major in psychology and minor in business, is much different physically than high school. The 6-6 center plays at 225 pounds, about 45 pounds heavier than his Panther days.
“It helps you in rebounding and on defense,” Bakerink said of the added strength. “There are a lot of good bigs in the league, and they can bang into you and you don’t move back so much. You can play more physical.”
Bakerink wasn’t surprised that Taylor made a rapid rise through the depth chart to a starting role.
“Now he’s getting to start and we can play a lot together. It’s awesome,” Bakerink said. “He’s just a hard worker. Colby is always in the gym putting up shots, and he plays with a confidence that you normally don’t see in a freshman.”
Taylor has also added strength to his game, up to 190 pounds from 175 last year. He said going head-to-head with former Atlantic rival Sam Markham in practice has prepared him for the speed of the collegiate game. Markham is a 6-2 freshman who gets some varsity minutes.
“I have to guard Sam in practice, which we know from high school is one of the quickest kids in the state,” Taylor said.
Taylor is majoring in actuary science, which he said will combine his interests in economics and math. Time management is a key to collegiate success, he said.
“Homework is probably double or triple from high school,” Taylor said. “I’m in class on and off from 8 a.m. to about 2. Then practice from 4 to 6 or 6 to 8, and study. The Wednesday (game) trips are tough. Next week we go more than four hours to Luther, and I have an 8 a.m. lab the next morning. That’s a quick turnaround.”
Bakerink and Taylor weren’t the only former Panthers involved in the Simpson-Central rivalry.
Trey Thomsen, a classmate of Taylor’s, is a freshman shooting guard on the Simpson squad coached by former Des Moines Hoover state champion coach Charles Zanders. He has played mostly JV, but has dressed for some varsity games.
“My role has been pretty similar to high school, mostly a two or three guard,” said Thomsen, now 6-2 and 160 pounds. Like Taylor, he feels stronger on the court than his 145-pound high school days. Simpson recently opened a new weightlifting facility on the south side of the Cowles Fieldhouse.
Thomsen is a biochemistry major with medical school aspirations.
After Wednesday’s game, it was a Panther reunion of sorts, as Bakerink and Taylor mingled with Thomsen and Simpson classmates Kainen Somers and Luke Neitzel. Somers is a member of the Simpson men’s golf team.
“It was great to come over and see everybody and have all of the support here,” Taylor said.
The Dutch play at Coe College (9-11, 1-8) Saturday. League leader Dubuque improved to 19-1 overall Wednesday with an 18-point win over Wartburg College.