March 5 - BETHANY, W.Va. – After pulling out a narrow win in the quarterfinals, the Bethany College men’s basketball team will travel to Catholic (D.C.) University this weekend for the conclusion of the ECAC South Region Tournament, with the semifinals being held on Saturday and the title game on Sunday.
The second-seeded Bison (19-8) will take on third-seeded Penn State Behrend (19-8) in Saturday’s second semifinal at 7 p.m. The opening game of the night will pit top seed and host Catholic (18-8) against #5 Alvernia (16-10) at 4 p.m. The two semifinal winners will square off Sunday at 2 p.m. for the ECAC South Region championship.
Bethany advanced to the weekend by edging #7 Neumann 70-68 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal round. The Bison streaked to a 22-8 lead out of the gate before the Knights trimmed the margin to 32-29 at halftime. There were five ties and two lead changes in the final seven minutes of the second half, with BC taking the lead for good on a basket by freshman Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township) with 36 seconds left. Then Bethany had to stop two Neumann chances in the final eight seconds, which included a three-pointer at the buzzer being off target, to pick up their first ECAC win in four trips to the tournament.
The game was a record-setter for Bison senior forward Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity), who had team-highs of 15 points and nine rebounds in the victory. It was the 112th game of his career in Green and White, which broke the school’s all-time record held previously by Chris Stephens (111 from 2003-07). In addition, the 6-3 forward moved into fifth place on the school’s all-time rebounding list (778) and with 1,249 career points, needs just seven more to pass Nevada Smith (1,255) for eighth on the all-time scoring rankings.
A pair of underclassmen have stepped up their production recently to aid in the Bison’s postseason run. Junior Ryan McFadden (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy), who scored 10 of his 13 points against Neumann in the second half, is averaging 15.3 points over the last three contests after scoring in double digits just once through the first 23 games of the season. Meanwhile, Wilcox has scored in double figures in five of the last six games and is averaging 15 points in those contests. He also has 68 steals this season, which is tied for third-most in a year at Bethany.
The win over Neumann was just the third postseason triumph in Bethany history and first in eight years. The other two postseason wins came on the road, with the last occurring in the 2002 NCAA Tournament when they knocked off Pitt-Bradford 110-98 in the opening round. The first postseason win in Bison history came in 1978 when Bethany upset Rose-Hulman 70-68 to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
Saturday’s match-up with Penn State Behrend will mark the second consecutive year the teams have squared off in the ECACs. In the opening round of the South Region Tournament last year, the Lions outlasted the Bison for a 73-69 win in Erie, Pa. Testa totaled 16 points and 12 rebounds to help BC hold a 45-39 rebounding advantage and McFadden chipped in 10 markers, but Behrend hit nine three-pointers and went 18-for-21 from the foul line in the win. Guard Adam Kaiser fired in 20 for the Lions and Chris Saltzman had 11 off the bench for the Lions, who lead the all-time series with Bethany 16-4.
Behrend reached the semifinals this year by virtue of a 79-73 overtime win over Misericordia Wednesday. The Lions led 32-23 at halftime and were in front by seven with 57 seconds left, but the Cougars scored seven straight, including a three-pointer at the buzzer, to force overtime. Once in the extra session, Behrend made 3-for-5 from the field and all six free throw attempts to pull away for the win. Saltzman recorded team-highs of 16 points and seven boards for the winners, while Adam Potter and Russ Conley had 12 points apiece.
The Lions are representing the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference (AMCC) and went 14-6 in the league to finish in third place in the regular season standings. After defeating Penn State-Altoona in the league quarterfinals, Behrend dropped a 71-61 decision to Pitt-Bradford in the semifinals. While the Bison are making their sixth consecutive postseason appearance, the Lions are in the postseason for the ninth straight season, which includes six ECAC bids. Behrend lost in last year’s semifinals after defeating Bethany and have gone as far the ECAC title game once in their previous five trips, which came in 2007 when they lost the championship game at DeSales 72-63.
The Lions are a strong, fundamental team that led the AMCC in scoring defense (62.7), committed the fewest turnovers per game (9.8) and ranked second in free throw percentage (73.5). They are led by a pair of All-AMCC selections in Saltzman (First Team) and guard Justin Kovac (Second Team). A 6-3 junior, Saltzman led the team and ranked 10th in the conference with 14.2 points per game and also grabbed a team-high 5.2 boards. Kovac led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.23) and averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 assists per game. Also averaging in double digits in scoring is Kaiser (11.1), who hit a league-leading 63 treys this year, and the 6-9 freshman center Conley (10.7), who teams with the 6-5 senior Potter (9.7) to give the Lions a strong inside game.
In the other semifinal, Catholic will begin play after getting a bye through the quarterfinals. The Cardinals were 18-8 overall and 10-4 in the Landmark Conference to place third in the regular season standings. They are led by a pair of juniors who earned First Team All-Landmark status, including 6-4 forward Jason Banzhaf, who averaged a team-high 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and 6-0 point guard R.J. Dixon, who totaled 12.3 points, 3.4 assists and 1.96 steals per contest.
Catholic will be hosting Alvernia from the Commonwealth Conference, who is now 16-10 following their 73-63 win at #4 Pitt-Bradford in the ECAC quarterfinals Wednesday. Guard Tad Gillis had 22 points, six assists and five steals for the Crusaders in the win, while guard Seth Cornell tossed in 15. Gillis, a 5-10 sophomore, earned First Team All-Commonwealth laurels after leading the circuit in assists (5.7), ranking second in steals (2.6) and placing 10th in scoring (14.6). The team’s leading scorers were Cornell (16.8), who shot 42 percent (64-153) from the arc during the year, and 6-6 senior center Nick Rivera, who averaged 16 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.