Jan. 10 - BETHANY, W.Va. – First place in the PAC will be on the line Wednesday night when the Bethany College men’s basketball team (13-1, 5-0) hosts Thiel (9-4, 6-0) in the first meeting between the teams since last year’s PAC Tournament championship game won by the Bison. Wednesday’s tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.
With a 73-45 victory over Waynesburg Saturday, Bethany won its third straight and moved to 5-0 in the conference, their best start in PAC action since 2006-07. Waynesburg used three three-pointers early to take a 9-4 lead, but the Bison held the Yellow Jackets to five points over the final 14+ minutes of the period to build a 39-14 lead. As they completed their 19th straight win over the Jackets dating back to the 2002-03 season, the Green and White limited Waynesburg to 26 percent shooting for the game.
Junior forward Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township) led all scorers with 18 and added 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double and fifth of the season. Junior forward Brady Pacific (Avonmore, Pa./Kiski) chipped in 17 off the bench and junior point guard Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands) added 16 points and four steals. Although head coach Andrew Sachs was happy with his team’s defensive effort and despite a 41-31 rebounding advantage in Saturday’s triumph, he wants to see his team do a better job on the glass beginning Wednesday.
“We did what we were supposed to do Saturday,” said Sachs. “After (Larry) Alexander hit three threes for them early, we stepped it up and did a great job defensively. Our constant is defense, although we need to rebound better if we want to compete at the national level. We’ve lost double-digit leads to teams this year because of our rebounding and we lost the rebounding battle in our loss to Illinois Wesleyan. Thiel is very athletic and has hurt us on the boards in the past, so we have our work cut out for us.”
The improved play of Mabery at the point guard position has fueled the tremendous start for the Bison, who is tied for fourth with Ohio Wesleyan and Hardin-Simmons (Texas) among Others Receiving Votes in this week’s D3Hoops.com Top 25 poll. The 5-11 junior averaged 16 points, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals in wins over Washington & Jefferson and Waynesburg last week. For the season, he leads the PAC in free throw percentage (90.9) and is ranked 10th in scoring (13.2), tied for second in steals (2.46) and fifth in assists (2.77).
With Mabery engineering the attack, Bethany is among the nation’s elite in turnover margin. While the BC defense has earned a reputation for causing turnovers, as they are forcing a PAC-high 20.6 per game, the Bison offense is nearly as good at taking care of the ball with only 13.4 miscues per contest. That margin of +7.14 puts the Green and White on top of the conference and seventh in the nation, with Sachs giving credit to Mabery and the experienced cast the team brought back this season.
“Although he still makes a couple turnovers a game, Reece’s maturity at the point guard is a big reason for our success,” said Sachs. “The other is because we’ve had a core group of guys playing together for the last 2-3 years. We are missing Ryan McFadden, who was a good passer from the three and four last year, and Dustin Opalka, who gave us good minutes off the bench, but we have the same group outside of them and that experience of playing together has certainly helped.”
The Bison won the final of three meetings with Thiel last season to win the PAC Championship. The Tomcats won both regular season meetings between the schools by scores of 60-58 at home and 66-59 at Bethany on their way to the regular season conference title. Although BC leads the all-time series by a wide 107-44 margin, the recent bouts between these PAC heavyweights have gone down to the final bell. Of the last eight match-ups, seven have been decided by seven points or less.
After opening the year 2-2, Thiel has bounced back with wins in seven of its last nine contests. The latest victory was Saturday when the Tomcats shot 51 percent from the floor to claim a 73-56 triumph over Geneva. Four starters netted double digits, led by senior point guard Devon Adams with 18 and he also handed out seven assists, while Chace McKinney and Austin Forbes scored 14 each.
Like the Bison, Thiel has four players averaging double digits, Led by forward Blair Rozenblad, who, in addition to averaging 14.0 points per game, leads the league with 8.4 rebounds a contest. Adams is averaging 12.8 points and a PAC-best 4.42 assists a contest, while junior Anthony Harvey, a 6-0 guard, is posting 12.3 markers and 6-4 forward Ladell Trotty, who has come off the bench in 10 of the 13 games this year, is scoring 11.7.
“Thiel was picked to win the league and deservedly so,” said Sachs. “We respect the schedule they’ve played and competed against good schools like Wooster, who we saw how good they are at their place last year. Rozenblad is the best and most versatile player in the league. They have an experienced point guard back in Adams, a Division II transfer in Harvey, McKinney and Trotty who are playing well and guys off the bench who give good minutes.”
When Bethany knocked off Thiel in last year’s PAC Tournament title game 74-67, the only loss by the Tomcats on their home floor in their last 19 games, the free throw line was the deciding factor. The Bison made 27-of-33 (81.8 percent), while TC converted just 8-of-19 opportunities (42 percent). According to Sachs, the foul line will play a factor again in this game, as well as Bethany’s ability to cut down on Thiel’s fastbreak points and also limit the Tomcats, who lead the conference in rebounding, on the boards.
“This will be a good test for us and good barometer to show where we are,” said Sachs. “Over the final month of last season and especially in the title game at Thiel, we made our free throws. So we’ll have to get there again Wednesday and make them, while also limiting their chances at the line.
“Thiel plays great team defense and uses their length well,” said Sachs. “You can see on film they turn defense to offense quickly, so transition defense will be huge for us. We will have to focus on taking away transition baskets and also second chance points because of how good they are on the boards.”
Fans that can not make the trip to Bethany for the games can follow the action live from their home computer. Both the women’s and men’s games on Wednesday will be video streamed live as the “Games of the Week” by the PAC Sports Network at http://www.pacstream.net/ .