Feb. 22 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Coming off a quarterfinal victory Tuesday, the 25th-ranked Bethany College men’s basketball team will try to take the next step towards a conference title when it hosts Washington & Jefferson Thursday night in the PAC Tournament semifinals. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The winner of the Bethany/W&J semifinal will take on the winner of the other semifinal, which pits #4 Saint Vincent (19-7) at #3 Thomas More (19-7) Thursday at 7 p.m. The championship game will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on the home floor of the highest remaining seed.
The top-seeded Bison (23-3) moved into the tournament semifinals for the 11th consecutive season with an 82-69 win over #9 Waynesburg Tuesday. Fueled by 20 points off 23 Yellow Jacket turnovers and 50 percent (29-58) shooting from the floor, BC pulled away from Waynesburg in the second half to advance. Five players reached double digits, led by double-doubles from junior Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township), who had 21 points and 10 boards, and senior British Alexander (Dayton, Ohio/Trotwood Madison), who recorded 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The win, which puts Bethany one away from tying the single-season school record of 24 victories set in the 2004-05 season, was their first since breaking into the D3Hoops.com national poll at #25. In addition to the national ranking, the Bison moved up one spot in this week’s NCAA Great Lakes Region. Bethany is now fifth behind Hope (Mich.) College (25-1), Wittenberg (21-5), Wooster (22-4) and Ohio Wesleyan (20-6).
Tuesday’s win over Waynesburg was also highlighted by junior Brady Pacific (Avonmore, Pa./Kiski), who hit for 17 points off the bench. Through the last six games, the 6-3 forward has been a major cog in the BC offense, as he is averaging a team-best 18.2 points over that stretch. He is shooting 57 percent from the floor and a red-hot 56 percent (18-32) from the three-point line.
This current hot streak for Pacific began with the Bison’s last match-up with W&J. He sank six treys and rifled in a career-high 28 points to lift Bethany to an 81-49 home victory Feb. 4. Junior Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands) and freshman Dylan Gravatt (Franklin, Pa./Rocky Grove) both had 10 points in the win, which helped counter 23 markers from the Presidents’ Zach Bellhy. W&J committed 23 turnovers in that setback and Bethany held a 43-31 margin on the glass.
The Bison swept the season series from the Presidents this year, also taking a 79-60 decision in Washington on Jan. 4. The two wins this year give BC eight triumphs in the last nine match-ups with W&J, dating back to the 2008 PAC Tournament Championship game. This is only the fourth time these long-time rivals have squared off in the league playoffs, with Bethany winning the 2004 and 2008 title games. The Presidents’ win in playoff action was a 78-75 decision in the 2007 semifinals, which is the only loss Bethany (15-1) has suffered in 16 home Tournament games.
The seventh-seeded Presidents (9-17) have emerged as the Cinderella story in this year’s Tournament. Last Saturday, W&J trailed at halftime in the regular season finale at Waynesburg and if they hadn’t rallied for a 68-59 win, the Presidents would have played in the PAC play-in game Monday night. By claiming that win, W&J ended up going to #2 Thiel in the quarterfinals and pulled out a 91-89 upset Tuesday to reach the semifinals for the fifth time in the last six years.
In the upset over Thiel, W&J set season-highs in points scored, field goal percentage (56.6) and free throws (26). Five players scored in double digits, led by Bellhy with 23 and freshman guard Andy Carter, who notched 20 points and 10 boards for a double-double. Senior guard Uchenna Okocha, last week’s PAC Player of the Week, recorded 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists as well.
The Presidents, who have won a season-high three games in a row, lead the PAC in free throw percentage at 72.3 percent. They also have the leading scorer in the league in Bellhy, who is putting in 19.1 points per game. Carter gives W&J a strong 1-2 scoring punch with 14.1 markers a game and is also hauling in a team-best 5.2 rebounds a contest.