Gators eliminated from playoff contention

By PAT JAMESON

Sports Editor

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Coming off a convincing win over Oberlin College, men’s basketball looked to ride their hot streak into a matchup against nationally ranked No. 14 Ohio Wesleyan University last Saturday.  The Gators (5-19, 2-5 NCAC) were heavy underdogs but gave the host Battling Bishops (19-5, 13-4 NCAC) all they could handle, forcing the game into overtime before losing by a final score of 76-81.

“The loss was a tough one to swallow,” Head Coach James Driggs said.“Give credit to OWU.  They made some huge shots but I was happy with the way we played.”

The Gators’ strong effort was led by an offensive onslaught that saw four players reach double digits. Josh Valentic,’15, led the team with 16 points while Brandon Smith, ’15, was close behind with 14 of his own. Rookies Evan Zabriski and Sam Calhoun added 14 and 12 points respectively. Calhoun pulled down nine rebounds to round out his strong performance while D’Andre Corbin, ’14, snagged seven as well.

Ohio Wesleyan hit a three in the opening minute to take the lead, and although Zabriski answered with one of his own, this would prove to be the theme throughout much of the first. OWU found continued success beyond the arc as back-to-back three pointers put them ahead by 16-9 with twelve minutes remaining until halftime. After successive layups by Ryan Stanko, ’14, and Smith, the game remained scoreless for nearly three minutes before a jumper from Smith broke the deadlock. From there the Gators fought their way back into the game with steady defense and sound offensive decisions. John O’Donnell’s,’14, three with 3:36 left pulled the Gators within two and a Marco Corona, ’14, layup tied the game at 26 all heading into halftime.

The Gators commanded the lead for most of the second half led by a 60 percent shooting average from the field. A Zabriski long distance three put his team ahead two minutes into the half and theynever trailed. Calhoun provided the Gators with a huge boost with ten minutes left as he sank consecutive threes to cap off an 8-0 run and put the score at 55-45.

Faced with the prospect of a monstrous upset, the Battling Bishops slowly closed the gap and tied the game at 61 with 2:48 left. The Gators answered immediately as Josh Valentic  put up back to back shots from beyond the arc to put Allegheny up by six. With 36 seconds remaining, Zabriski sank both his free throws to make it 69-64 and it looked as if the Gators were assured a victory. Ohio Wesleyan’s Nick Felhaber had other plans as he drilled a three to give his team renewed life. With only fifteen seconds left, the Battling Bishops were forced to foul and O’Donnell went to the line for the Gators with a chance to put the game out of reach. However, his foul shot came up short and was snagged by OWU, who then tied it with a wide open layup. Valentic’s last ditch three bounced out and made it 69-69, forcing an extra period.

Ohio Wesleyan pulled away in the final minutes as the Gators struggled to make their shots land. Valentic hit a three with four seconds remaining but the Battling Bishops went 6-6 from the charity stripe during the last sixty seconds and shattered the Gators’ comeback chances, ending the game at 81-76.

“You really have to tip your cap to OWU,” said Corona following the game. “They countered every big play we made with a big play of their own, and we made a lot of big plays.”

Despite the Ohio Wesleyan loss, the Gators still had a chance to make the North Coast Athletic Conference Playoffs heading into Wednesday’s contest against the College of Wooster. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the visiting Wooster Scots put on an impressive shooting display and upended Allegheny 57-89. Wooster was ranked eighth nationally heading into the contest and quickly showed why, jumping ahead 7-0 within the first two minutes.

Senior Ryan Stanko provided a spark of life for the Gators by hitting a three while Zabriski quickly followed up with one of his own to bring the Gators to within one. This would be the smallest margin between the two teams for the remainder of the game.   The Scots broke open the game when they went on a 16-0 run to go up 43-22 with six minutes remaining. The Gators went into halftime trailing 29-45.

The second half saw Wooster continue their dominance, at one point leading by 34. Despite their continued effort, Allegheny was unable to contain Wooster from beyond the arc and the game ended in a 57-89 decision.

“Wooster is really good,” said Coach Driggs. “I thought our inability to score late in the first half lead to many fast break baskets. They are very talented at all five spots.”

According to Calhoun, Wooster’s speed and scoring accuracy was hard to counter.

“We were too slow getting out to shooters on the perimeter,” said Calhoun. “We gave up way too many second chance points off of offensive rebounds.”

Stanko spearheaded the Gator offense with 15 points on a 7-9 shooting average while Zabriski and Valentic had 11 of their own.

While the Gators’ playoff hopes are dashed, they have another chance to pick up their final home win as they face Denison College this Saturday at 1 p.m. According to Corona, this last game is another opportunity to grow as a team and help their squad transition into next season.

“We want to end the season on a high note and send myself and the rest of the seniors out right,” said Corona. “Our starting five includes only underclassmen so it would be nice for them to gain some momentum going into the off season.

Coach Driggs echoed this sentiment, saying that he wants to send his upperclassmen out with dignity.

“I want our seniors to end their careers with a win,” Driggs said. “They are a resilient group. They are great people with tremendous futures. Allegheny should be proud of them and I want them to win.”

CAITIE McMEKIN/THE CAMPUS Brandon Smith, ‘15, fends off an Ohio Wesleyan defender during their game on February 15th.
CAITIE McMEKIN/THE CAMPUS Brandon Smith, ‘15, fends off an Ohio Wesleyan defender during their game on February 15th.