#25 BETHANY TO BATTLE THOMAS MORE SATURDAY FOR PAC CHAMPIONSHIP
Feb. 25 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College men’s basketball team, ranked 25th in the nation and 5th in Great Lakes Region, will play for its second consecutive and 14th overall Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) Championship Saturday night when its hosts Thomas More in the conference tournament title game at 7:30 p.m.
The Bison (24-3) reached the championship game for the eighth time in the last 11 years and also tied the single-season school record for wins with an 82-69 triumph over upstart Washington & Jefferson Thursday. The Presidents led by one with 13 minutes to play before a 19-4 BC run, sparked by eight points from junior Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands) and six from junior Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township), put Bethany in control.
Wilcox had a career-game, hitting 10-of-16 from the floor to net 29 points. Junior James Barton (Bethel Park, Pa.) cashed in five three-pointers and totaled 21 and Mabery went for 13 markers and five steals in the win, which upped BC’s record to 16-1 at home in PAC Tournament games.
Another large factor to the win Thursday was Bethany’s presence on the offensive glass. The Green and White chased down 19 offensive boards, their second-highest total in a game this season, which resulted in 22 second-chance points. Sophomore Leslie Addy (Columbia, Md./St. Vincent Pallotti), who helped clinch the win with a steal and breakaway dunk in the closing minutes, led the effort by grabbing seven offensive caroms. Bethany is accustomed to working on the offensive glass, as they lead the PAC with 13.63 offensive rebounds a game.
The huge game from Wilcox was also a record-breaking one. He made two steals, which gives him 88 for the year to break the single-season school record of 86 set by Shaun Davis in 1997-98. The 6-3 forward already owns the BC all-time steals record with 219 and became the 23rd player in Bethany history to reach 1,000 career points. Due to his outburst against W&J, Wilcox is now 17th on the all-time scoring list with 1,118 points.
Bethany’s offense has been operating at a very efficient rate down the stretch and into the tournament. The Bison are hitting at a 51.9 clip over the last four games after ranking fifth in the conference during the year by shooting 44.8 percent. The Bison’s ability to knock down shots is an obvious key to their winning ways, as they were limited to 41 percent shooting in the loss to Illinois Wesleyan, 30 percent in the defeat to Thiel and 39 percent in the setback at Thomas More.
That loss to Thomas More came on Feb. 1st when the Saints held a 37-29 rebounding advantage and forced 16 Bison turnovers in a 68-57 victory. Guard Daniel Whelan came off the bench to score 17 and center Colt Stafford had 15. That meant a split in the regular season meetings, as BC won the first match-up on Dec. 10th at home. Behind a 50-29 rebounding edge and 19 points from Wilcox and Mabery, the Green and White scored an 89-74 victory.
This will be the fourth meeting all-time between the schools in the conference playoffs. While Bethany has only lost five times in tournament play, two of those have come to Thomas More. The Bison won by a 105-98 score in the 2008 semifinals on their way to the PAC championship. The Saints returned the favor the next year with a 91-65 triumph in the title game for the program’s first league crown. Then in 2010, Thomas More knocked off the Bison 88-73 in the semifinals.
This meeting in the championship game pits the two hottest teams in the conference. While Bethany has won seven in a row, Thomas More has captured 10 straight and has not lost since a 96-83 defeat at Wilmington Jan. 18. The Saints opened the PAC Tournament with an 82-56 victory over Geneva. It was just a two-point game with five minutes to play before TMC closed the game with a 26-2 blitz. Center Colt Stafford led five scorers in double digits with 19 points and also hauled in 12 rebounds, while Phil Feinberg scored 17.
Thomas More advanced to its third PAC championship game in the last four years by rallying for a 75-70 win over #4 Saint Vincent Thursday. The Saints trailed by five at halftime, but managed to come back behind 21 points at the foul line in the second half and 27 for the game. Feinberg (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Stafford (21 points, eight boards) again led the attack.
The Saints boast the top offense in the league with an average of 76.0 points per game, just ahead of BC’s 75.9 a contest. In addition, TMC is atop the conference rankings in field goal percentage (47.0) and rank second in free throw percentage at 72.4. Thomas More specializes in getting to the charity stripe, as their 648 attempts are more than 130 above the next team in the conference and they average 24 foul shots a game.
Thomas More leans heavily on its duo in the front court, as Feinberg is averaging 14.9 points (seventh in PAC) and 8.1 rebounds (third), while Stafford is posting 13.3 points (12th) and 7.0 boards (fifth). The Saints also have guards the Bison will have to contain, as Whelan is scoring 10.1 points per game and Ryan Hamm leads the PAC in three-point percentage (52.4).
The winner of Saturday’s title clash will receive the PAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It would be Bethany’s eighth NCAA appearance and second in a row after a 70-58 loss in the first round last year to Manchester. Thomas More would make its second trip and first since an 80-77 overtime loss in the first round of the national tournament in 2009.