Feb. 25 - CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. – The Bethany College men’s basketball team saw a seven-point second half lead disappear under a 25-4 blitz, as Thomas More rallied for an 88-73 victory over the Bison in the PAC Tournament semifinals Thursday night.
With the loss, BC fell to 18-8, while the Saints improved to 21-6 and advance to Saturday’s PAC title game at #1 Grove City, who defeated Washington & Jefferson 61-59 in the other semifinal.
Five points by Thomas More’s Daniel McKeehan gave the hosts an early 8-6 lead, but BC freshman Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township) scored four during a quick 6-0 burst and the Bison led the rest of the half. The Bethany advantage grew to as large as nine when senior Jonas Ankrom (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan) drilled a three to make it a 31-22 advantage at the 4:33 mark.
Thomas More rallied to get as close as two, but Ankrom capped a big first half with a traditional three-point play with 38 seconds left in the half to send the Bison to the locker room with a 39-34 lead. Ankrom led all scorers at the break with 14 points off the bench, while McKeehan notched 11 in the opening stanza for the Saints.
The Bison kept the momentum early in the second half, as senior Jay Lyonett (Weirton, W.Va./Brooke) hit a three and freshman James Barton (Bethel Park, Pa.) scored to keep the lead at six. At the 14:35 mark, junior Dustin Opalka (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview) buried a trey for the Bison to extend their margin to 49-42.
A couple possessions later, a TMC steal led to a three-point play by Eddie Brown, which was followed by another three-point play by Brian Muse. Those scores ignited a 25-4 push by the home team over the next 8+ minutes. Brown had two more baskets during the run and Kurt Bovard swished three three-pointers, including a triple to cap the run and give the Saints a 67-53 advantage with 6:15 remaining.
Bethany heated up briefly after the run, as back-to-back threes by Ankrom and Opalka brought BC within 10 at 71-61 with 4:30 to go. However, Thomas More’s Johnny Bovard hit a trifecta on the next trip down and the Bison didn’t get closer than 12 the rest of the way, as the Saints advanced to the title game for the second straight year by shooting 67 percent (18-27) from the floor and 63 percent (5-8) from the arc in the second half.
Pacing the Bethany efforts was Ankrom, who hit five three-pointers and finished with a career-high 22 points. Wilcox totaled 14 points and three steals, while junior Ryan McFadden (Columbus, Ohio/Mount Vernon Academy) chipped in 11.
For the Saints, McKeehan dropped in a game-high 24, while Kurt Boward and Romell Salone each scored 14.
The Bison will find out Monday afternoon if they have earned an invitation to the ECAC Tournament, which would be their sixth consecutive postseason appearance. Bethany has played in the ECAC Tournament in 2001, 2007 and last year, when they were defeated at Penn State Behrend in the first round 73-69.