Jan. 3 - BETHANY. W.Va. – After settling for a split at the Staten Island Tournament just before New Year’s, the Bethany College men’s basketball team returns to the PAC docket Wednesday night with a short trip to long-time rival Washington & Jefferson for an 8 p.m. tip-off.
The Bison (11-1, 3-0) suffered their first loss of the season in the opening round of the Staten Island Tournament, as traditional power Illinois Wesleyan rallied from a big early deficit to down BC 63-60. The Titans, who are now 9-2 this season and received four votes in this week’s D3Hoops.com Top 25 poll, were able to overcome a massive output from junior guard Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands), as he cashed in six three-pointers and rifled in a career-high 31 points in the defeat.
Bethany, who totaled 16 votes in this week’s D3Hoops poll, were back on track the next day in the consolation game by besting Vaughn (N.Y.) College 84-38. By allowing the fewest points in a game since a 112-31 victory over Penn State-Fayette in 2008, the Green and White’s bench also outscored Vaughn 54-38. Leading the way in the big win were a couple of BC reserves, as freshman Ray Neal (Olympia, Wash./River Ridge) recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds and senior guard Ryan Summers (Sistersville, W.Va./Tyler Consolidated) hit four three-pointers and tallied a career-best 12.
One key to the outcome of Wednesday’s match-up will be whether W&J can take care of the basketball against Bethany’s pressure defense. The Bison are forcing a league-high 20.8 miscues per game and have harassed teams into 20 or more turnovers in nine of the 12 games so far. On the other side, the Presidents are committing a league-low 13.7 turnovers a game and since averaging 23.7 in their first three games, W&J has not made more than 16 miscues in any of the last nine outings.
The teams have earned their wins through far different means. The Bison are outscoring teams by 15.6 points, the best in the PAC, and only four of their 11 victories have come by fewer than 13 points. The youthful Presidents, with 10 freshmen among the 16 players on the roster, have played a season’s worth of tight games already. Six of their contests have been decided by two points or less and W&J is 3-3 in those games, including wins at the buzzer over Notre Dame (Ohio) and Westminster.
The most recent down-to-the-wire triumph was on Dec. 31, as the Presidents knocked off Denison 64-62 in a non-conference battle. Trailing by eight at halftime, W&J roared back to lead by as many as nine in the second half. After the Big Red rallied to regain the lead with 22 seconds remaining, the Presidents delivered another thrilling finish, as freshman Mike Resnick canned a trey with 1.5 seconds left for the win. Resnick’s heroics gave him 10 points to match teammates R.J. Pilato and Andy Carter, while junior Zach Bellhy hit for 15.
Bellhy is the main offensive weapon in the W&J arsenal, as he leads the conference with 19.3 points per game and he has five games this year with 22 or more, including 27 in match-ups against Thiel and Hiram. Carter, a freshman guard, is also hitting for double digits with 12.6 points per game and has a team-leading 4.7 boards.
Wednesday will be the 166th meeting between the schools, the longest running basketball rivalry in the PAC. W&J owns a 91-74 series advantage and snapped a six-game losing streak to Bethany in last year’s regular season finale with a 74-67 decision. The Presidents were red-hot from the floor in building a 44-26 halftime cushion, but had to hang on at the end, as the Bison cut it to three before running out of time. Junior Brady Pacific (Avonmore, Pa./Kiski) delivered a then career-high 21 points and senior British Alexander (Dayton, Ohio/Trotwood Madison) grabbed 16 boards, while Bellhy went for 16 to pace W&J.