LIBERTY — When Chris McCabe took over as head basketball coach at William Jewell, he knew the transition would be a challenge. If you consider the large shadow cast by his predecessor, Missouri Sports Hall of Fame coach Larry Holley, that was almost a certainty.
So the former Liberty North coach spent most of his first season as a college basketball head coach preaching patience as the key to building this program under his command.
But sometimes the surest signs of progress are how fast you can win big games. And few wins could be bigger, and happen faster, than his team rallying from a double-digit deficit to upset No. 12-ranked Bellarmine in an overtime thriller.
William Jewell erased a 10-point halftime margin in a little more than two minutes of game action to beat the Knights 70-69 last week. The Cardinals (9-13, 4-10 Great Lakes Valley) traded seven lead changes and five ties with the Knights on the way to overtime. Former Liberty North product Robbie Hanson scored five of the team’s 10 points in the extra session, including a game-winning 3-pointer with six seconds remaining in the game.
“This league is as tough as it gets in the country,” McCabe said. “Every night we’re just trying to earn our respect out there, and hopefully winning a couple like we did helps with that. Obviously, a big win against a top 25 team certainly gets people’s attention.”
The Cardinals starting five scored all 70 of the team’s points while freshman sixth man Kobe McKinley was able to snag four rebounds and provide 23 minutes off the bench. Junior forward Eysan Wiley scored 18 points with five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Senior guard Nick Bradley added 17 points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“Those five guys who start all have a variety of skill sets that complement each other well,” McCabe said. “So when we’re able to shoot it well, it stretches the floor and gives Eysan room to play, and he’s able to play inside-out.”
The Cardinals defense deserves as much credit as their offense for the comeback.
William Jewell scored 17 of their 40 second-half points off of turnovers. The advantage flipped in OT as both teams turned the ball over three times, but Bellarmine turned those possessions into five points while the Cardinals came up empty.
It didn’t matter.
The Cardinals took a 65-62 lead when sophomore guard Alexander Mason drained a 3-pointer and junior forward Jackson Golightly sunk two free throws after being fouled on a fastbreak. Still, the Knights refused to go down easily as they took a 1-point lead with 21 seconds left after a 7-2 run.
That’s when Hanson hit his game-winner from behind the arc to finish off the upset.
“I knew he was good when I had him (at Liberty North),” McCabe said. “I knew he was really good and was going to make a heck of a college player. He’s come here and just put in so much work and committed himself to getting better. He’s had a couple games where he’s led us in scoring and he’s drawn attention from the opponents’ scouting report to get people to drop towards him.”
William Jewell went 3-3 over their last six games, including a 92-63 loss to the University of Indianapolis Saturday, Feb. 8, after starting the season 6-9.
“Wins in this league are so hard so you have to celebrate any win that you get, however you get it,” McCabe said. “Then, when you have a chance to win games and build some confidence, it builds some momentum.
“But at the same time, what I’m proud of is the fact that prior to this stretch where we’ve played even in our last six, we had a stretch where we weren’t playing well, but we continued to do the little detail stuff with our scouting reports, our practices and our workouts to give ourselves a chance.”
The Cardinals next game will be at home against Southwest Baptist University on Thursday, Feb. 13.