HASTINGS, Neb. — Believe it or not, Hastings College men's basketball coach Lance Creech hadn't given much thought to all the external factors surrounding Wednesday night's game against Concordia.
Never mind the fact that it was likely Creech's final game with the Broncos at Lynn Farrell Arena after 11 seasons as their head coach. Right up until game time, Creech did his best to treat Hastings' regular-season home finale as just another game.
“I know that might sound like a bunch of BS, but I was really trying not to give it a lot of thought, until the starting lineup,” Creech said. “That was kind of tough, just to know that the end is really in sight. When I made this announcement back in October, it felt like an eternity away before you'd have an opportunity to even think about how it goes.
“You get so wrapped up in game-planning, getting kids healthy, keeping kids healthy, planning practice and all those things that I really haven't had a ton of time to think about it how it's going to feel and it hasn't hit me yet. Probably ask me a week after the season and it will hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Although Hastings is still mathematically alive to host a home game in next week's Great Plains Athletic Conference Tournament, the Broncos and their fans gave Creech a proper sendoff with an 83-63 victory over the Bulldogs. Creech was recognized before the contest and many fans paid tribute to the Doniphan native by wearing sweater vests similar to the ones donned by Creech during his tenure at HC.
The women lost to Concordia, 73-61, earlier.
With 1:30 to play and the Broncos comfortably in the lead, members of the student body wearing white T-shirts with red letters lined up to spell out, “Thank you Creech” and also chanted their message. As he walked off Hastings' home court for possibly the final time as head coach, the student section yelled in unison, “We love Creech! We love Creech!”
“That was a very, very nice gesture on our students' part,” Creech said. “It was a really neat deal for me and I appreciate that kind of thing.”
Hastings senior forward Jake Marvin said he couldn't have scripted a better ending for the senior class and Creech in their last regular-season home game.
“We saw the student body show up with all their enthusiasm and we knew that we wanted to finish up strong,” Marvin said. “It was obviously great to get a win here at home. To let him go out on a good note here was something really special.”
Special was a word Marvin also used to describe his relationship with Creech.
“Coach Creech been just that super sincere guy since I met him and it's been a great four years here,” Marvin said. “He's always somebody who shoots you straight and even if there's some rift during practice, once practice is over, we go back to being friends and being able to be open with each other.
“His door is always open in his office. He's always somebody you can talk to.”
Over the past eight seasons, Creech has coached two NAIA All-Americans, 13 NAIA academic All-Americans and 25 All-GPAC players. In 2010, he was selected as the GPAC coach of the year.
With the win over Concordia, Creech's improved his career record at Hastings to 139-137. Including two seasons at McCook Community College, Creech has 168 career coaching victories with at least two more games remaining.
Despite all the emotion, Hastings controlled the game most of the way. The Broncos shot 55.6 percent in the first half to lead 44-33 at the intermission and held Concordia to 30-percent shooting from the floor in the second half to pull away.
“You just never know how a team is going to respond with that kind of emotion,” Creech said. “Thank goodness we had a great start.”
Carson Blum, Jake Hamburger and Zach Lenagh scored 14 points apiece to lead Hastings (20-9, 11-8 GPAC), which previously beat the Bulldogs 84-75 back on Jan. 9 at Seward. Brady Lollman added 13 points and Marvin had 10 for the Broncos.
Brent Houchin scored a game-high 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field to lead Concordia (6-21, 2-17). The loss was the sixth straight for the Bulldogs.
Creech said his decision to leave his coaching post at Hastings ultimately came down to family. He and his wife, Liz, have two sons, Christian (age 13) and Connor (age 11).
Noting that he's seen Christian play just one junior high game this season and Connor play perhaps three of 20 games, Creech said he knew something had to change.
“You really get torn,” said Creech, who plans to sell crop insurance in the Hastings area after he's finished coaching.
“Recruiting has become so year-around that there's really no time. Iif you leave your team and go watch your kids play, your recruiting is going to suffer. If you go recruit and don't watch your kids play, your family is going to suffer.
“At the end of the day, I would like my headstone to read: 'Good coach, great dad,' so that's the ultimate factor behind my decision.”