The motion offense used by Washington & Jefferson College men’s basketball coach Glenn Gutierrez typically prevents the Presidents from jumping out to many fast starts, with chemistry slow to develop and timing tough to perfect.
Add to that two new faces – even if they’re superbly talented in Nate Bellhy and Ben Cecchini – and all of a sudden W&J’s four-game losing streak to start this season doesn’t seem so unlikely.
It’s also, given the Presidents’ performance during Wednesday night’s Presidents’ Athletic Conference opener against visiting Westminster, beginning to become a distant memory.
W&J looked downright unstoppable at times on offense and did enough down the stretch to pull away with a 92-87 win in overtime at Henry Memorial Center. Slow start, yeah, but the Presidents are catching up just fine.
“Offensively, we exhibited a lot of patience, getting good looks and getting what we wanted,” said senior guard Zach Bellhy, who scored a team-high 31 points on 14 of 21 shooting.
Tied at 77 after regulation, W&J outscored Westminster, 15-10, in the extra period, with seven of those coming from Zach Bellhy.
Nate Bellhy contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds – his 16th consecutive game with a double-double dating back to last year – but suffered an ankle injury in the second half and did not return. Gutierrez said he didn’t think it was serious, though he’d hope to know more by this morning.
Westminster relied heavily on senior guard Doug Smith, who scored a game-high 40 points and made 10 three-pointers, eight of them after halftime.
Cecchini, who chose not to play basketball last year, helped out with 14 points and nine rebounds. Mike Resnik contributed 11 points and made seven of his eight free throws.
“We’re finally starting to click,” Cecchini said. “Those first four games, it’s tough. A lot of people are new and still learning the system, and I think we’re finally clicking.”
The Presidents (1-0, 2-4) entered the game averaging 17.6 turnovers per game but coughed it up just five times during Saturday’s 81-79 win over Muskingum. W&J turned it over 11 times against Westminster.
“We’re just starting to focus on what we need to do,” said Zach Bellhy, who contributed nine rebounds and two assists. “We’re taking care of some things offensively and defensively that maybe we weren’t paying as close attention to in the first couple of games.”
The Presidents jumped out to a 12-4 lead after a Nate Bellhy three-pointer from the left corner that forced a Westminster timeout.
Trailing 18-9, Westminster used an 11-1 run to take a 20-19 lead after a King three-pointer from the corner. The lead changed three times before Nate Bellhy made back-to-back threes to give W&J a 27-22 lead at 7:13 of the opening half.
Westminster made one final push, closing with a 9-2 run, to take a 39-37 lead into halftime after a flip into the basket from Paul Carswell.
Zach Bellhy scored six of 10 points during a 10-0 run for the Presidents early in the second half that flipped a five-point deficit into a five-point lead. He later hit a step-back jumper from the right elbow to give W&J a 51-47 lead at 15:19 of the second half.
“It’s something I have in my bag, so I just pulled it out,” Bellhy said.
Smith kept Westminster in it down the stretch, and the Titans tied the game at 75 on a leaner from Anthony Thomas at 1:43. W&J had a chance to win it with 23 seconds left but turned it over on a double-dribble, though Thomas’ three-pointer was no good.
In overtime, Zach Bellhy knocked down a three-pointer and made two layups, while Smith converted two three-pointers – a “poor man’s Wilkins and Bird,” Gutierrez called the duel. Finally, W&J took a seven point lead after a Doug Johnson three-pointer and Bellhy’s layup.
“We’re a work in progress,” Gutierrez said. “We played well against Muskingum in phases. We played well tonight in phases. But given the way we play, we could come in tomorrow and throw the ball all over the gym, and it will look rough. That’s motion.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are and who we’re going to be, but it’s really neat to see us play run offense the way we did at different periods in the game.”