Dec. 1 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany men’s basketball teams will begin PAC play Wednesday night with a match-up at Westminster, with tip-off slated for 8 p.m.
Wednesday will be the first time the Bison and Titans have faced off since they played three tightly contested games last season. Those three games were decided by a total of nine points, with Bethany coming out on top in two of them, including a 71-67 triumph in the semifinals of the PAC Tournament. Bison senior forward Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity) had a double-double in both BC victories, totaling 15 points and 10 rebounds in an 82-77 regular season win and posting 12 and 11 in the tournament triumph.
This season’s Bethany team is off to a 2-3 start and coming off a tough 65-62 loss to Baldwin-Wallace Saturday when the Yellow Jackets hit a go-ahead three-pointer with two seconds to play. Junior guard Dustin Opalka (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview) scored a career-high 15 points, including a triple with 58 seconds to go to give the Bison a three-point lead before B-W answered with a pair of treys in the final 44 seconds for the win. Freshman forward Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./PetersTownship) also had double digits with 11 points and added a team-high seven rebounds.
First-year Bethany head coach Andrew Sachs said his team has come a long way since the start of practice and they are taking steps to ensure a loss like Saturday doesn’t happen often.
“In the time from our first scrimmage to our last game, we’ve improved dramatically,” said Sachs. “We still have some weaknesses we need to work on, but we’ve made great strides over the last five weeks. One thing you can say is that we have guys who care. They took Saturday’s loss hard and came in on their own on Sunday to watch film. That shows how much they care and if you invest enough in yourself and your teammates, losing is something you don’t want to go through.”
With only two of their top eight scorers back from last year, the Bison knew coming into this season that they would need contributions from everyone on the roster. One of the main surprises of the early season has been how balanced Bethany’s scoring has been. Of their top five scorers, only Testa (10.4) was a major contributor last year. Wilcox is the leader in his first year with 11.2 points per game, while senior guard Jay Lyonett (Weirton, W.Va./Brooke), who averaged seven minutes a game last year, is scoring 11.0 per game and leads the PAC with 16 three-pointers.
Add in Opalka (9.8) and senior forward Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) (7.2), who both missed all of last year because of injury and the widespread point production almost seems like it’s coming from an entirely new team.
“We are getting a lot of contributions from guys who haven’t played quality minutes in the past,” said Sachs. “Lyonett has played very, very well in the games we’ve won and Wilcox has had a couple real good games and become a glue guy for us. We also have two guys back in Opalka and Ankrom who missed all of last year because of injuries.
“And we have some other newcomers who are playing well, like Reggie Baptiste (Brooklyn, N.Y./Pacific), who has improved every game and is earning more time and Brady Pacific (Avonmore, Pa./Kiski Area), who once he gets healthy and gets used to playing, will be able to help us. So it’s been encouraging so far and we hope it’s only going to get better.”
Like the Bison, Westminster also carries a different look than the group who lost the hard-fought contest in the PAC Tournament last year. But that will only be for a short time longer, as senior forward Ryne Murray, last year’s PAC Player of the Year and a preseason All-American, only has one semester of eligibility left and is sitting out the fall to be ready for the spring semester.
Without him, the Titans have struggled so far, getting off to a 1-3 start. They dropped their first three games by an average of 24.7 points before they knocked off Oberlin 67-60 on Sunday behind 17 points and 10 rebounds from freshman forward Adam Carswell. Leading Westminster in scoring is Max Spinner with 17.8 points per game, while Carswell is second in scoring (10.3) and first in rebounding (4.3) for a team getting beat on the glass 43.5-28.3 through the first four games. However, the Titans have forced 18.5 turnovers in their last two games and avoiding miscues is one of the keys for Wednesday, according to Sachs.
“We have to take care of the ball better than we have,” said Sachs. “I also want to take what they give us and play defense for 40 minutes, which we haven’t done in our losses. When you go out on the road, especially in a conference game, you want to set the tempo and be the aggressor, especially towards the end of the game. We are still evolving and the way we play and what we do is still a new process to the guys. We just want to keep progressing so that by the middle of January, we’re really clicking.”