Jan. 17 - BETHANY, W.Va. – As the midway point of the PAC schedule approaches, the Bethany College men’s and women’s basketball teams will host an important conference twinbill Saturday when Westminster (Pa.) College invades Hummel Field House. The women’s game will start the day at 2 p.m., with the men’s game due to start at 4 p.m.
After losing four out of five games, the Bison men (8-7, 3-1) have won two straight and are just a half-game behind Grove City (10-5, 4-1) for first place in the league. BC made it two in a row Wednesday with an 81-72 triumph at Franciscan (Ohio) University. Junior guard Tyler Morando (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central) buried five three-pointers and scored a career-high 27, while sophomore Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) tallied 12 of his 14 in the second half to help the Green and White pull away for the victory.
The Bison sharp-shooters continued a winning trend Wednesday night that has run not only this season, but for five years now. Bethany finished the Franciscan game with 10 three-pointers, the eighth time this year they’ve hit at least 10 triples in a game. Their record in those games is 6-2 and BC is now 47-8 since the 2003-04 season when they hit double figures in threes.
Bethany’s outside game could play a big factor in Saturday’s tilt with the Titans, as Westminster has allowed the third-most three-pointers in the PAC (104). In addition, conference teams are knocking down their looks from deep, as PAC opponents have canned a league-high 42 percent (37-88) of their attempts from three-point land.
In Westminster’s (3-12, 1-4) last game Wednesday at Thiel, it wasn’t their ability to defend the three that hurt as much as the battle on boards. Thiel posted a 41-27 advantage on the glass and also shot 60 percent (35-58) from the floor in notching a 93-79 win over the Titans. Westminster was led by forward Ryne Murray with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals and Craig Hannon with 21 markers.
Although Westminster isn’t putting up big numbers in the win column, Murray is putting up huge numbers on the stat sheet. The 6-4 sophomore leads the PAC in rebounding with 9.5 per game and is fourth in scoring with 18.1. He’s also one of the top defensive players in the league, as he is tied for the conference lead in blocks (1.15) and is second in steals (3.0). Another big scorer for the Titans is Hannon, who is sixth in the circuit with 17.3 points per game and fourth in threes made with 46.
The Bison aren’t disappointed that Hannon is in his final season with Westminster. In six games against BC, he is putting up 18.8 points. The best game of his career against Bethany came in last year’s season finale, as the Titans clinched the PAC regular season title with a 102-90 win at home. Hannon scored 25 points and had seven rebounds to help give his team a season sweep of the Bison, which improved Westminster’s advantage in the all-time series to 64-15.
The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader shapes up as a battle for second place in the conference, with Bethany (8-6, 4-1) trying to solidify their grip on the spot in the standings. The Bison won their fourth in row over PAC teams Wednesday with a 67-60 triumph at Chatham (Pa.) University. BC trailed by 14 at halftime, but a 17-2 blitz early in the second half erased the deficit and allowed the Green and White to rally for the victory. Freshman Kelly Goode (Pleasant Plain, Ohio/Little Miami) scored 17 of her career-high 23 in the second half to pace the comeback.
Wednesday’s come-from-behind triumph was the second time this season Bethany has recovered from a double-digit halftime deficit. In the season opener at Penn State Behrend, BC was down 37-27 but bounced back to force the game into double overtime, where they claimed a 70-67 win. However, the 14-point comeback against Chatham marks the largest rally from a halftime deficit by a Bison team in more than 10 years.
Bethany may not want to turn Saturday’s game into a free throw shooting contest with Westminster. The Bison are ranked seventh in the league in foul shooting at 64.6 percent, but have hit under 60 percent in each of the last two games, including 58 percent (7-12) against Carnegie Mellon Monday and 58 percent (11-19) at Chatham. Meanwhile, the Titans are the league’s top team in free throw accuracy, as they are hitting 77 percent of their attempts from the charity stripe.
It was Westminster’s foul shooting that helped propel them to their last victory, a 66-49 win at Thiel Wednesday evening for their fourth straight trimph. The Titans (11-3, 4-2) shot just 32 percent from the floor (17-53) but swished 30 of 37 from the free throw line (81 percent). Senior Emilee Ackerman led the foul shooting parade by going 11-for-12 from the stripe and finished with her sixth double-double of the season with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Kaitlin McCarthy also had a big day at the line, going a perfect 10-for-10 for all of her points, while also recording seven rebounds and six assists.
Ackerman looks to be the front-runner for PAC Player of the Year honors at this stage of the season, as she is the top scorer in the conference with 21.3 points per game and is also fourth in rebounding with 9.3 boards a contest. In addition, she is converting 89 percent (83-93) of her free throws. Guard Gina Brunetti compliments Ackerman’s game with 11.3 points per game and is Westminster’s top outside shooter with 19 treys.
The Titans swept both match-ups with Bethany last year to take a 10-9 lead in the all-time series. Ackerman enjoyed two stellar games at the Bison’s expense, as she averaged 16.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds and four steals in the victories. BC junior Renee Brandenburg (Avella, Pa.) averaged 14 points in the two Westminster games, including a 19-point effort in the game at Hummel Field House.