Dec. 31 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Currently riding a five-game winning streak, the Bethany men’s basketball team will begin the new year with their most daunting test of the season Saturday when John Carroll University, ranked ninth in the nation in the most recent D3Hoops.com poll, visits Hummel Field House for a 1 p.m. tip-off.
The Bison (7-3) made it five straight with a convincing 85-60 beating of Pitt-Greensburg Wednesday. Bethany closed the first half with a 13-3 run to take a 41-26 lead at intermission, then opened the second half with a 14-3 spurt to put the contest away. Senior Jay Lyonett (Weirton, W.Va./Brooke) cashed in six three-pointers and matched his career-high with 22 points, while senior Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) chipped in with 13 off the bench.
Bethany continued their season-long trend of controlling the glass Wednesday, as they held a 38-34 rebounding advantage. BC has out-rebounded nine of the 10 teams they’ve played this season, with the only exception coming Nov. 20 in an overtime loss against Division II Wheeling Jesuit when both squads pulled down 46 caroms. The Bison’s work underneath not only has them leading the PAC in rebounding margin, but they were also ranked 12th in all of Division III at +10.8 through Dec. 21. Senior Joe Testa (Amity, Pa./Trinity) paces the attack on the glass with a PAC-high 9.0 boards per game.
Another area of strength for the Green and White this season has been the turnover battle, a trend they must continue Saturday if they hope to pull the upset. Bethany is making 15.5 miscues per game so far, the fewest in the PAC. They have also amped up their efforts on the defensive end, as they harassed Pitt-Greensburg into 23 turnovers. It was the second-highest total forced this year by the Bison and raises the season total to 18.8 turnovers per game by BC’s opposition.
On the offensive end, Bethany continues to present a balanced attack to defend against. Five different players are averaging double digit points for the Bison, led by Lyonett (11.5), freshman Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Twp.) (11.3) and Testa (11.0). The Green and White’s accuracy from the arc is a big reason why they are ranked second in the PAC with 78.8 points per game. Bethany leads the conference in three-point percentage at 35.8, with Lyonett sitting atop the PAC with 29 trifectas this year.
The 7-3 start for the Bison this year represents their best since opening the 2006-07 campaign with seven wins in their first 10 outings. For first-year head coach Andrew Sachs, it’s the best beginning by a new Bison coach in more than 40 years. The last BC mentor to begin his tenure with as much success was Thomas Ackerman, who led Bethany to a 7-3 start in the 1966-67 season, which ended with a PAC Championship.
As hot as Bethany was to close out 2009, John Carroll was nearly as cold. The Blue Streaks returned all five starters from last year’s 25-6 team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament and opened the year ranked second in the D3Hoops.com preseason poll. The Blue Streaks played to that lofty ranking by winning their first six games by an average of 13.5 points, including wins over 2009 NCAA Tournament qualifiers Scranton and Wooster.
Since then however, JCU has hit a speed bump, with three losses in their last four games. They dropped road contests at Mount Union (67-62) and Wilmington (107-105 in 3 OT) before blowing out Marietta before Christmas. In their first action after the break, John Carroll was upended at home by Medaille 92-91 Wednesday in a rematch of their NCAA Tournament first round game last year. The Blue Streaks battled back from several deficits to take a 90-89 lead with 23 seconds left, but the undefeated Mavericks converted a three-point play with 19 ticks left and held off JCU for the win.
Leading John Carroll in the loss was Rudy Kirbus with a game-high 24 points and Matt Crozier with 22 markers and 10 rebounds. It was Crozier’s fourth double-double of the season and the 6-7 sophomore center leads the Ohio Athletic Conference with 9.1 boards per game. Kirbus, a 6-4 senior forward, is the overall top scorer with 15.4 points per game for the Blue Streaks, who lead the OAC with 90.3 points per game.
Bethany and John Carroll are similar statistically in other areas as well, as JCU leads their league in rebounding margin (+4.3), three-point percentage (4.3) and threes per game (10.44). Defensively, the Blue Streaks thrive on pressure, as they are forcing teams into 21.2 turnovers per game and only four teams have committed fewer than 20 miscues against JCU. However, two of those games were against Mount Union (15) and Wilmington (19), who handed John Carroll two of their losses on the year.
Saturday’s tilt will be just the second between Bethany and John Carroll since 1989 when the Blue Streaks left the PAC for the OAC. The only other meeting came in 2005 when the two locked up in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. John Carroll claimed a 76-48 victory that night at home and went on to reach the Sweet 16. The overall series between the schools is led by JCU 34-31, as they have taken 10 straight games from the Bison. The last Bethany triumph was a 61-59 win during the 1984-85 season.