FOREST CITY – The Waldorf College men's basketball team fell short in a 74-67 loss to College of the Ozarks in a battle for the top spot in the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference standings (MCAC) on Saturday.
"Ozarks had a really good stretch in the second half," Waldorf coach Nigel Jenkins said. "They made a run, took the lead from us and our defense broke down. Against a team like Ozarks, you can't have miscues and missed assignments."
Jordan Nelson scored a game-high 25 points for the Warriors (13-13, 9-3). The 6-foot-6 senior center from Neenah, Wis. went 80 percent from the field on 12-of-15 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, blocked four shots and handed out two assists.
Waldorf's Erik Brewer added 19 points, eight boards and two blocks. Brewer, a 6-foot-6 junior forward from Las Vegas, shot 8-of-18 (44 percent) from the floor and 3-of-7 (43 percent) from 3-point range.
Derek Daniels led the Bobcats (21-5, 10-2) with 18 points. Cameron Paschke provided 14 points, Ethan Murray scored 13 points and Pete Leonard finished with 12 points for Ozarks.
Leading by as many as eight points in the opening half, the Warriors owned a 31-26 edge at halftime.
The Bobcats, who entered the matchup ranked No. 13 in the latest National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II poll, erased a seven-point deficit in the second half and went on top 43-42 following a 3-pointer from Canyon Smith with 11 minutes, 36 seconds remaining.
Layups from Nelson and Tyler Parrish pushed Waldorf back in front, 46-43 with 9:51 to play. Ozarks responded with a 20-4 run to take control with a 63-50 advantage and 3:39 to go.
Parrish knocked down a shot from downtown, trimming the Bobcats' lead to 70-65 with 31 seconds left. Ozarks would convert on 5-of-6 free throws the rest of the way.
"It was just one really bad stretch that we had in the second half and they took advantage," Jenkins said. "They stepped up and knocked down their free throws late."
Senior Trey Scott scored eight points and dished out three assists for the Warriors. Parrish closed out the night with seven points.
Sophomore Michael Morgan finished with four points and a team-high nine rebounds, leading Waldorf to a 40-31 advantage on the boards. Senior Devin Graham and freshman Kaden Verdin contributed two points apiece. Freshman Kaimen Slay had three assists in the loss, which snapped the Warriors' six-game winning streak.
Waldorf shot 48 percent, going 30-of-62 from the field and 4-of-17 (24 percent) behind the arc. The Warriors earned just six trips to the free-throw line, converting on three attempts.
"I don't think we attacked enough," Jenkins said. "When we did, they did a good job rotating over and protecting the paint. At the end of the day, we've still got to keep going. We were just not very aggressive and that cost us."
The Bobcats finished 23-of-58 (40 percent) from the floor and 7-of-24 (29 percent) from the perimeter. They capitalized at the foul line, converting on 86 percent of their attempts behind an 18-of-21 performance.
Waldorf owned the low post, outscoring Ozarks 40-20 in the paint. Fourteen offensive rebounds led to 17 second-chance points for the Warriors. The Bobcats had nine second-chance points on 10 offensive boards.
Twenty-two turnovers were costly for Waldorf, leading to 30 points for Ozarks. The Bobcats turned the ball over 14 times and the Warriors scored 11 points off turnovers.
Saturday was Senior Day for Waldorf and the final regular-season home game for Nelson, Graham, Scott and Ben Amadi. The group has helped the program raise the bar and guided the Warriors to 16 wins last season, a single-season school record since joining the NAIA.
"They've done some great things here," Jenkins said. "They've bought in from day one. They are still trying to cement their legacy here and I've been fortunate enough to have this group of guys. We're going to try our best to play as long as we possibly can with these guys."
The four seniors have been a part of 56 wins in the past four years and have put Waldorf basketball on the map during Jenkins' four seasons with the Warriors.
"They've moved the program in the right direction," Jenkins said. "That's what I wanted my first recruiting class to come in and do. We're just getting better and better and are competing for championships now on a regular basis."
With the win, Ozarks moves into first place in the MCAC standings. The Bobcats also topped Waldorf 74-64 on Jan. 24 at Point Lookout, Mo.
The Warriors fall into a second-place tie with No. 3 Bellevue University (23-5, 9-3), but own the tiebreaker after sweeping the Bruins.
Hosting the MCAC North Tournament at the end of the month is still attainable.
"Our main goal is still reachable," Jenkins said. "We've just got to get back to work on Monday and get ready for next week."
Waldorf goes on the road next weekend, facing York College (15-12, 6-6) on Friday in a 7:30 p.m. matchup at York, Neb.
York handed the Warriors a 78-52 loss on Jan. 16 at Forest City.
Waldorf plays Central Christian College (15-11, 5-7) in Saturday's 5 p.m. contest at McPherson, Kan. The Warriors rolled to an 83-63 home win over the Tigers on Jan. 17.
Aiming to host the MCAC North Tournament, Waldorf knows getting past York is the first hurdle. The Panthers have won three of the last four meetings.
"We still control our own destiny to host the conference tournament in the north," Jenkins said. "We've got to be ready to play on Friday."