The Legacy of Two Young Coaches

 

Easton, Missouri has somewhere between 200 and 300 residents.  It is located near St. Louis on Highway 31 that runs through the center of town.  The word is don’t speed through Easton.  Speeding tickets are the community’s number one source of income.

 

Back in August of 1904, a man by the name of Henry Iba was born.  To this day, he is the most famous resident every to claim Easton, Missouri as their home town.  Hank as he was called stayed close to home to attend Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.

 

At the age of 25, Henry Iba was hired by Maryville Teacher’s College as their new men’s basketball coach.  Maryville Teacher’s College, now Northwest Missouri State University, was the MIAA Champion the year before Iba arrived despite only a 13 – 8 record.

 

That year, the Bearcats won their final two MIAA games over Central Missouri State.  Back then, you played a conference team four times in a row.  Central did defeat Maryville Teacher’s College 35 – 28 before a string of MIAA wins began.

 

Iba’s teams won games with an innovative man to man defense.  Iba was nicknamed The Iron Duke of Defense.  His defensive principles became legendary among fellow coaches.

 

Iba had a perfect 31 – 0 season that first year in Maryville.  In a span of four MIAA series, the Bearcats won all 16 games.  Iba entered his second year in Maryville with 18 consecutive conference wins.  The streak finally ended by the same school that had started it.  Central Missouri State nudged the Bearcats 28 – 27.

 

That was the best regular season stretch in recorded history for the MIAA, which only had five teams back then.  Who would have guessed that the record would last over 80 years?  That’s exactly what happened until Saturday afternoon.

 

Just in case you aren’t a basketball historian, that 25 year old from Easton, Missouri, left Marysville Teacher’s College after four years.  Henry Iba won 94 games in those four years despite only playing 19 games total his final season.  I wonder why?

 

He spent one year at the University of Colorado.  He finished with a .500 season before moving to Oklahoma A & M, later to be known as Oklahoma State University.  Henry Iba was a decent coach.  He won back to back NCAA I National Basketball Championships in 1945 and 1946.  He also coached the United States to two gold medals in the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games.  He should have had a third that was stolen from the team in 1968.

 

In 1982, Ben McCollum was born in Storm Lake, IA.  Storm Lake is much bigger than Easton, Missouri.  There were just over 10,000 residents during the last census.  Actor Gene Hackman might be the most famous person to come out of Storm Lake.  Don’t confuse Storm Lake with Clear Lake, the place the music died (Buddy Holly’s plane crash).

 

Henry Iba would die in Stillwater, Oklahoma when Ben was nine years old.  Ben went to an Iowa junior college, then transferred to Northwest Missouri State, the former Maryville Teacher’s College.  He played for Steve Tappmeyer who coached defense as intensely at Henry Iba.  Ben graduated in 2003 and eventually found his way to Emporia State University as an assistant coach.

 

In 2009, Northwest’s all time wins leader, Steve Tappmeyer, left Northwest.  At the tender age of 27, Ben McCollum became the second youngest coach in NCAA II.  Unlike the immediate success of Henry Iba in Maryville, Ben’s head coaching career started slowly.

 

When his team began winning in 2012, they really won.  Each year was a little better than the past one.  Last year, something special began to happen.  On January 30, 2016, the Bearcats lost to Emporia 70 – 63.  No one from the MIAA has been able to beat the Bearcats since that date.

 

The streak started with a six point win at Washburn and the legendary coach, Bob Chipman.  Early on, I’m not sure anyone thought a streak like this was possible.  Northwest survived close calls in Bearcat Arena against the University of Nebraska-Kearney, Pittsburg State and Lindenwood.  Finally, McCollum’s team ended the regular season on a 12 game winning streak when they defeated Emporia State 77 – 74 at home.

 

They didn’t lose again during that 2016 season until two free throws in the final seconds ended their season with a loss to the eventual national champions, Augustana.  It was played on Augustana home court.  It was Augustana’s closest game in the post season.

 

You knew Northwest would be good as they returned all but one of their top players.  At the start of this season, Northwest beat the defending national champions and survived a close call at Metro State in Denver.  When the MIAA season began against Central Oklahoma, no one was even aware history was well underway.

 

That first game in Oklahoma was the closest of the first eight conference games.  The Bearcats came away with a seven-point win.   No one has played Northwest Missouri State to single digits since.

 

Then came last Saturday in Bolivar where Northwest traveled a day early to get to Southwest Baptist before a dangerous ice storm arrived.  They got in Thursday night after a 13-point win at Central Missouri.  Before the ice storm could stop them, Ben McCollum’s team had wiped out the 86 year old record that had been accomplished by the famous Henry Iba of Easton, Missouri.

 

I don’t know if Ben will advance to a division one job and become a house-hold word in the basketball community.  He will definitely join Henry Iba in the Northwest Missouri state Hall of Fame one day.  When asked about the record, Ben had a great quote.  He said, “All I know is we are the only team that can break that record and we could break it next week.”

 

With the Bearcats domination of the MIAA and the fact Justin Pitts and several key players return next season, Ben McCollum’s team could be breaking this record many more times.

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