Jan. 20 - BETHANY, W.Va. –The first half of the PAC schedule will come to a close Wednesday night when the Bethany men’s basketball team hosts Washington & Jefferson in an important contest that could leave the winner in a four-way tie for first place in the conference.
Wednesday’s winner between the Bison (9-7, 3-2) and the Presidents (11-5, 3-2) will join Thomas More (10-6, 4-2) and Westminster (4-12, 4-2) atop the league standings. A win by Grove City (8-6, 3-2) over Thiel (1-14, 0-5) Wednesday can create a four-team logjam at the top of the conference.
Bethany lost their grip on sole possession of first place in the league Saturday with an 80-78 loss at Westminster. BC led 70-53 with 10 minutes to go in the game, but the Titans outscored the Green and White 27-8 the rest of the way to pull out the victory. Senior Petre Petkovski (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park) registered his second double-double of the season with a career-high 27 points and 10 rebounds, while freshman Tobi Akinsola (Cary, N.C./Word of God Christian Academy) fired in a career-high 13 off the bench.
The Bison’s leading scorer this season is junior Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity), who is eighth in the league with 13.1 points per game and is also fourth in rebounding with 7.4 boards per contest. The 6-3 forward was limited to nine points in Saturday’s setback at Westminster, just the fourth time this year he has not reached double digits and not surprisingly, the Bison dropped to 0-4 in those games.
Bethany’s defense will try to return to their opportunistic ways Wednesday against the Presidents. It won’t be easy, as W&J averages just 13.4 miscues per game, second-lowest in the league. In the last six games, the Bison are forcing only 12 turnovers per outing, which is down from the 18.2 they were creating through the first 10 contests.
It’s been an up-and-down year for the Presidents thus far. Early in the campaign, they knocked off Wooster and Randolph-Macon, who were both ranked in the Top 25 at the time. Just a short time later, they lost three of four, with setbacks at LaRoche and Grove City and a home loss to Denison, all teams Bethany has beaten this year. But they have since righted the ship, winning six of seven and four in a row by an average of 17.3 points. Their most recent triumph was a 78-60 win at Waynesburg Saturday behind double-doubles from Wahab Owolabi (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Josip Lucic-Jozak (15 points, 11 rebounds).
Anytime these teams get together, the focus is always on the inside tandem of Lucic-Jozak and Owolabi. In eight career games against the Bison, the 6-8 Lucic-Jozak has four double-doubles and is averaging 20.6 points and 10.3 rebounds. The 6-4 Owolabi has scored 20 or more in four of his six contests versus BC and is totaling 19 points and 8.2 boards per game. They are the focal point of the Presidents’ attack again this year, with Lucic-Jozak ranking fourth in the PAC in scoring (14.9) and second in rebounding (7.6) and Owolabi is seventh in scoring (13.3) and eighth on the glass (6.7).
This bitter rivalry has become one of the most closely contested in the entire region. This will be the 160th meeting between the programs, with W&J holding a 90-69 advantage. The Bison have won 10 of the last 13 overall, but the last six games have all been down-to-the-wire finishes. Bethany has won four of those, but the average margin between the clubs in those games is just 5.8 points and four of the games have been decided by three points each. Only last year’s PAC Tournament Championship game, won by Bethany 90-76 at home, had a double-digit difference at the end.