The Bison (16-10) moved into their fourth conference championship game in the last five years with a 105-98 victory over fifth-seeded Thomas More Thursday night. The Bison buried nine three-pointers in the first half to build up a 50-40 lead and then went 12-for-16 from the foul line in the final 2:24 to secure the win. For the game, BC converted 32-of-43 from the charity stripe (74 percent) and out-rebounded the Saints 42-30.
Senior guard Brody Jackson (Akron, Ohio/Manchester) totaled 21 points and a game-high six assists to lead the potent Bethany offense. Five others reached double digits in the win, including junior guard Tyler Morando (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central) with 18, sophomore forward Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) with 14, sophomore forward Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity) and freshman guard Dakota Matz (Zanesville, Ohio) with 12 and junior guard Carey Palermo (Youngstown, Ohio/Ursuline) with 10. The 105 points is the second-most posted by the Bison this season and improved their record to 12-0 this year when they score 80 or more points.
Bethany’s win Thursday improved their record to 8-1 all-time at home in the PAC Tournament, which includes a perfect 3-0 mark in title clashes. BC won the first tournament championship in 2002 with an 89-74 victory over Grove City. The Bison, who have won a PAC-record 11 league championships, then captured consecutive crowns in 2005 (94-78 over W&J) and 2006 (95-64 over Waynesburg). The only time Bethany has lost a PAC championship game came in 2004 when they suffered a 97-88 setback at Westminster.
Saturday’s title game is third installment of the Bethany/W&J series this season to continue the longest running series in PAC history. The team’s split their meetings this year, which means the Presidents now have a 90-68 advantage in the series. This will also be the programs’ third match-up in the conference playoffs. The other meeting besides the ’05 final was in last year’s semifinal when W&J scored a 78-75 triumph in Bethany.
This year’s meetings were both decided by three points, which makes it four straight match-ups that only three points separated the two teams. Bethany won the Jan. 23 contest in Washington 86-83 in overtime behind 27 points from Jackson and 23 points from senior guard Marcus Adams (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy). The teams’ also met a week ago on Feb. 23 when W&J overcame a 16-point second half deficit to pull out a 73-70 triumph at BC as Wahab Owolabi and Josip Lucic-Jozak scored 21 points apiece.
The Presidents (14-13) are riding a four-game winning streak, with the last three triumphs coming by a total of eight points. After slipping past Bethany last Saturday, they earned their trip to the title game by beating Thiel 67-63 in overtime and knocking off Grove City 64-63 Thursday in the semifinals. W&J trailed the Wolverines 63-60 with 19 seconds left, but Lucic-Jozak scored to cut it to one and following a GCC turnover, the 6-8 center scored off an offensive rebound with 2.3 seconds remaining to send the Presidents to Bethany.
Leading the Presidents in the contest was guard Albert Varacallo with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Lucic-Jozak tallied 18 and Matt Drakeley fired in 15. It’s the second straight year W&J has played their way to the PAC title game as the third seed. Last season, the Presidents beat Thomas More and Bethany before falling to Grove City 60-58 in the championship game at home. W&J is looking for their 10th PAC championship, but they have not won a title since 1995, which was the last of four consecutive crowns earned by the Presidents.