The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

February 16, 2013

Ambassadors shake off Manhattan jinx

By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer

— Determining Ozark Christian College’s game plan wasn’t difficult.

No, the message was simple. Get Kyle Wicklund the ball, and then get him the ball again.

Wicklund, a 6-foot-6 senior post from Carthage, scored 15 of his team’s first 18 points to lead Ozark to an 87-74 win over Manhattan Christian in the MCCC Tournament championship on Saturday at Ambassador Gymnasium.

“It was ‘get him the ball and get him involved,’” OCC coach Chris Lahm said. “And Kyle came ready to play today. He did a phenomenal job and showed why he’s the MVP of the conference.”

Wicklund made 9-of-16 shots from the field and finished the game with 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.

“Our weakness is inside, and we couldn’t stop him very well,” Manhattan Christian coach Shawn Condra said. “I thought we had some tough breaks. There were times I thought we played well defensively, and they got the offensive rebound. Kyle’s a very good player. He’s the best player in the conference, and he showed that today.”

Wicklund scored Ozark’s first six points with three buckets inside. Later, he showed his versatility by hitting a 3-pointer and completing a three-point play to give the Ambassadors a 15-10 lead with 14 minutes left in the first half.

“Kyle is just a great basketball player,” Lahm said. “We feel fortunate to have him at our level. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player with his ability to score and play defense. He’s just a great athlete and has great leadership. The guys really look up to him.”

He got the Ambassadors started with 20 points in the first half, but it was Wicklund’s teammates who took over in the second.

Freshman guard Cameron Woodring scored all 15 of his points in the second half. Ozark had three others in double figures with Kendall Wingert, Zac Hill and Darrin Chitwood scoring 14, 13 and 11, respectively.

“They started doubling and triple teaming me, so I just kicked it out to my teammates,” Wicklund said. “Thankfully, we were able to hit shots, and that was the difference in the ball game.”

The Ambassadors were able to expand their lead to 66-51 in the second half as Wicklund sat on the bench in foul trouble. Adam Smith, a 6-6 freshman post from Florida, was key in Wicklund’s absence.

“Defensively, Adam Smith did a great job,” Lahm said. “He had four blocked shots and altered some shots. It was a presence inside that was good to have. He definitely gave us a lift.”

Ozark (26-6) played solid team defense as well. Manhattan Christian (21-10), the MCCC regular season champion, entered the game making 37 percent of its 3-pointers. The Ambassadors limited the Crusaders to 23.1 percent (6-for-26). Lonnie Penner entered the tournament making 15 of his last 27 3-pointers. He was only 1-for-9 against Ozark.

“We’re a perimeter oriented team,” Condra said. “We got to be able to knock down 3-pointers, and we didn’t.”

The win marked the end of a long losing streak for OCC against Manhattan.

“This is a huge win,” Wicklund said. “It probably has been six years since we beat Manhattan. So to get this one especially after losing twice in the regular season, this was a big win for the team.”

Manhattan and Ozark will host respective regional tournaments starting on Friday.