Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and Ohio Wesleyan proved that Tuesday night at the Wise Center, jumping out to a big lead and holding off the Gators for a 73–59 victory. The Bishops shot 61.4 percent from the field including 58.3 percent from three-point range, and used their hot shooting to squelch every Gator comeback attempt.
“They shot lights out last night,” said Hank Heeter, ’10, “And that’s tough to compete against.”
OWU took an early first half lead after an 11–0 run, giving them a 16–6 lead that they expanded to 40–28 going into the locker room.
Head Coach Rob Clune pointed to the end of the first half as one of the key moments of the game that did not swing in the Gators’ favor. After cutting the lead to 10 points, the Gators had possession with 1:11 remaining in the half and a chance to cut into the deficit.
“That whole transgression [was important], we could have gone down by eight and then six, and who knows we could have gotten some momentum,” Clune said. “But we missed the one–and–one and [Tim Brady] made the baseline jumper, and now we’re down 12 and really fighting uphill.”
The team battled throughout the second half, and was able to put together a 16–5 run to put them within seven with 5:26 remaining.
That was as close as they would get, however, as the Bishops made every shot they needed to make down the stretch.
Sophomore Tim Brady led OWU and all scorers with 27 points, missing only three shots, including threes and free throws.
“The kid’s a really good player,” said Seth Eisner, ’11. “When we’re doing our scouting report, our best defender is going to matchup with him, so we expected big numbers from him, but it was more about controlling the other guys and we just really didn’t do that.”
Despite the loss, George Raftis, ’10, recorded a double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 boards. Dante Briscoe, ’12, also continued his recent elevated play and recorded 12 points and proved to be a keystone player for the Gators’ full–court press with five steals.
Part of the relentless OWU assault was their dominance of the rebounding: out of their 30 total rebounds, 26 of them were defensive. This not only meant that they did not surrender many second–chance opportunities, but they also didn’t miss very many shots on offense. Even when they did miss, the Bishops were getting to the free throw line in the process. OWU went 12–15 from the line, while the Gators only shot 6–12.
Clune thought the team could have started stronger, but gave them credit for battling the full forty minutes.
“We didn’t play our best game, and that’s probably the most frustrating thing,” Clune said. “Normally our guys are knocking down those shots, but on the other hand they steadied the ship and made some plays and made a little run there, and that’s to their credit.”
As the Gators look to next season, there will certainly be holes to fill with the loss of six seniors, four of whom started on Tuesday, but Eisner and Clune both think people will step into the voids and keep the team playing at a high level.
“We have the “big three” of Dante, Devone [McCleod, ’13] and James [Ness ’12], and we hope that those guys can take the step up and be the centerpiece,” Clune said.
“Next year’s going to be interesting,” Eisner said, “I’m really excited about it because I’ve been behind a lot of seniors in my three years here. But we have Devone, who was already starting as a freshman and Dante is starting to excel and had a great second half of the season. We’re sad to see all the seniors go, but we’re not shy about being ready for next year.”
Though they fell short this year in the playoffs, the season was marked by a radical improvements, including the first home playoff game of the seniors’ careers, giving Clune and the team a positive outlook on next season.
“It was a great season, we had some great highs, and obviously [Tuesday] was a low, but that’s part of sports,” Clune said. “It was fun. They’re a great group of guys with great seniors who had a great senior season and they have a lot to be proud of.”