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BISON HANG ON FOR 66-65, WIN MOVE ON TO PAC TITLE GAME
Feb. 24 - LATROBE, Pa. –Sophomore Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands) scored all 15 of his points in the second half and the Bethany College men’s basketball team held off two final challenges from Saint Vincent in the final 30 seconds to escape with a 66-65 victory in Thursday’s PAC Tournament semifinal.
The win improved the Bison’s record to 20-7 and moved them into Saturday’s championship game at top-seeded Thiel in a 7 p.m. tip-off.
The first half bounced back-and-forth with seven lead changes and three ties. The final four minutes went right along with that trend. A breakaway dunk by BC junior British Alexander (Dayton, Ohio/Trotwood Madison) put the Green and White ahead 21-20 but consecutive threes by the Bearcats’ Tavoun Pettiford and Dennis Bassich pushed the home team to a 26-21 lead.
However, Bethany would close the half with seven consecutive points, which started on senior Dustin Opalka’s (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview) second three-pointer of the half. Sophomore Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township) followed with a lay-up and sophomore James Barton (Bethel Park, Pa.) swished a jumper to send BC into the locker room with a 28-26 lead.
After not scoring in the first period, Mabery heated up quickly out of the halftime locker room with a triple on the Bison’s first possession. He would hit two more treys during a 10-2 spurt that ballooned Bethany’s spread to 44-35 with 15:23 left. After SVC trimmed that down to four, another quick 9-2 spurt by the Green and White was capped by yet another Mabery three and Bethany would take their biggest lead of the night at 57-45 on a dunk by Alexander with 8:20 to go.
The Bearcats (19-8), who rallied from a 23-point second-half deficit to win at Thomas More last Saturday, would stage a big comeback in this one as well. Bethany still led 60-50 with 3:25 remaining, but threes by Pettiford and McGill and a three-point play from Grant Latus sparked a 13-4 run that cut the BC advantage to 64-63. A pair of foul shots by Alexander was matched by two free throws from Latus to make it 66-65 with 31 seconds to play.
On the inbounds, Pettiford made a steal at half court and was fouled. He missed both shots, but Saint Vincent grabbed the offensive rebound and called timeout with 24 ticks left. On their ensuing possession, the Bison applied solid pressure on the perimeter that didn’t allow the Bearcats to get a good look until Bassich slashed to the rim and lofted a contested floater in the closing seconds. The shot was off the mark and the ball was tipped into the air as the buzzer sounded and Bethany moved on to the PAC title game for the third time in the last four years.
Leading the winning effort was Mabery, who was 4-for-5 from the arc to finish with 15, while Wilcox matched him with 15 markers and grabbed eight rebounds. Alexander compiled 11 points, eight boards and three blocks to raise his season total to 58 and Opalka also dropped in 11, including nine in the first half.
For Saint Vincent, Pettiford scored a game-high 21 and Bassich netted 19.
Bethany will be trying to win their 13th PAC championship, the most in conference history, Saturday in their match-up at Thiel. The Tomcats (20-6) bested #5 Thomas More 78-65 in the other semifinal Thursday and swept the season series from the Bison by scores of 60-58 in Greenville and 66-59 at Bethany.