When the 2017-2018 basketball season kicked off and the Saint Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) released their annual preseason rankings, the Blackburn men found themselves on the outside looking in as they were placed ninth with only Fontbonne University below them. Even though preseason rankings don’t hold much value once conference play starts, the Beavers took their ranking as evidence of doubt (let’s be honest, being the underdog is nothing new to Blackburn) and quickly set out to prove those doubters wrong.
As October practices turned into November games, the Beavers got out to a hot start, opening conference play with three straight wins (the men also went 5-1 overall during that stretch). Although they had their low points just like any other team does, the men showed time and time again what they were all about. Getting stronger from every challenge, with just a handful of games left in the regular season they were all but ready to shock the same conference who picked them ninth.
And shock they did.
In their final two games, Blackburn found themselves in must-win situations. It would have been rather easy for the fairly young group to crack under the pressure, but they didn’t. Instead, they played some of their best team basketball all year, pulling off two overtime victories against Webster University and Westminster College in order to lock up a top four finish along with a bid to the SLIAC conference tournament.
Entering this year’s tournament, the third-seeded Beavers would have to go through the second-seeded Eureka Red Devils in the first of two semifinals Thursday night. The two teams split their matchups during the regular season, each team finding victory on their home court — Blackburn by a score of 78- 61 and Eureka, 103-76. However, in Eureka’s loss to the Beavers, they were without their top scorer Shea Feehan who was named SLIAC Player of the Year and finished the season second in the nation in scoring with 31.5 points per game in conference play. Needless to say the Beavers knew they would have their hands full with Feehan, who dropped 49 points on them in their loss just a few weeks before.
But as the teams tipped off, everything from the regular season was erased and the slates were blank. It was just two teams that were about to lay everything out on the line in pursuit of one goal. The only problem for the Red Devils? Only one would succeed in that goal.
The Beavers arrived with a game plan but left with something more. Right from the tip it was clear that neither team would back down as the largest lead either could build was just seven points across 21 lead changes and 16 ties. Down the final stretch, both teams were given a huge chance to put their team up, but missed free throws by both teams as the final minute wound down kept it close. Then, a last second three-pointer by Eureka’s Ryan McElmurry as time expired sent the game into overtime where Blackburn was able to shine in a place that they had become all too familiar with in their final three games, pulling off an 86-80 upset and advancing to the school’s first conference championship since 2005 (Blackburn defeated Webster 65- 52 to take home its third conference tournament title). Junior Duncan King finished the game with 20 points while senior Malcolm Scott (17), freshman Bryson Kirby (14), sophomore Karson Hayes (12) and senior Reed Rusten (10) all contributed significantly.
Unfortunately for the Beavers, their offense fell just short in the championship game against one of the fastest paced and highest scoring teams in college basketball (slightly over 126 points per game), Greenville University. Blackburn jumped out to an early 17-8 lead, but an 18-2 run by the Panthers that eventually worked into a 24-point lead erase it. Despite their deficit, nothing seemed impossible and the Beavers showed they were far from out of it (especially the day after Drexel University made history by overcoming a 34-point lead by the University of Delaware). The team was able to fight their way back into the game by cutting the Panther lead to four points with just four minutes left of the game but their comeback came up just short as they fell by a score of 126-119.
Despite not taking home the championship trophy, the Beavers were able to collect some hardware for their tremendous efforts this season. Winners of the conference’s top awards included:
- Steve Kollar: Coach of the Year (shared with Greenville’s George Barber)
- Nigel Ferrell: All-Defensive Team
- Malcolm Scott: Second Team AllConference
- Karson Hayes: Third Team AllConference
- Reed Rusten: All-Sportsmanship Team
While Blackburn fell shy of their ultimate goal, their season was proof of several things. They showed that what others think or expect does not and should not stand in your way. That true champions come from within. That if you want something bad enough, nothing should stand in your way. Congratulations men!