WAYNESBURG – Usually, not much is expected from a play-in game, but when Waynesburg University and Westminster College hooked up Monday night in the play-in game of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament, fast-paced and exciting action was on the menu.
In a game that resembled a track meet from the opening tip, the eighth-seeded Yellow Jackets eventually wore the Titans down, closing the game on a 22-5 run en route to a 74-57 victory at Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse, earning them a date with No. 1 seed Saint Vincent tonight.
“They were coming off of an overtime game, so we wanted to push the tempo and try to wear them down,” said Waynesburg head coach Mark Christner. “They only go about seven deep, and we play 10 guys so I thought we could tire them out. I don’t know if it worked, but the last seven minutes we seemed to have a lot of energy.”
The game was much closer than the final score indicated, as the lead changed hands 12 different times in the second half before Casey Hope made a layup to put Waynesburg (5-12, 10-16) up, 55-53.
Westminster (3-14, 7-18) led 53-52 with seven minutes remaining, but turned the ball over on six of its next eight possessions, eventually coughing up the ball 19 times on the night. Waynesburg took advantage.
Sophomore Jason Propst, who missed the Yellow Jackets’ regular season finale against Saint Vincent, sparked the Waynesburg run with inspired play at both ends of the floor.
Propst finished the game with a team-high 16 points to go along with 14 rebounds, but scored six points, blocked a shot and came up with a big steal in the span of two minutes that helped give the Yellow Jackets a lead that they would never relinquish.
The crowd fed off of Propst’s play, as did his teammates, as everyone contributed during the final six minutes.
Hope, Kenny Klase, E.J. Coleman and Jacob Fleegle all came up with big baskets during the stretch and Coleman dished out a couple pretty passes, including a no-look pass on a fast break that resulted in a layup that pretty much stuck the fork in the Titans.
“We all fed off of each other,” said Propst. “We expected to be in a fast-paced game. We felt we had them on the ropes in the final minutes, and everyone came up with big plays. It was a big win, and hopefully we can build off of it.”
The first half was a different story.
Waynesburg opened the game with a 7-2 run, but in the blink of an eye the Titans were right back in it.
Every time the Yellow Jackets went on a run, it was sparked by LaVance Turnange Jr., who scored eight of his 11 points in the first half, including knocking down a pair of big three-pointers.
Waynesburg led, 33-29, at the half, mostly because of the fact that it held Westminster’s Doug Smith, who entered the game third in the PAC in scoring (16.1 points per game), to only one point on 0-of-6 shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
Smith single-handily kept the Titans in the game for much of the second half, connecting on five three-pointers in a four-minute span to give Westminster the lead. But over the final 8:30 of the game, Smith was bottled up as he scored only two points.
“We kept running fresh bodies at him,” said Christner. “We may have worn him down. We had success with him early, then he got hot, then we just kept switching everything. We tried to limit the amount of open looks he got late in the game and he didn’t get many shots off.”
Smith finished with a game-high 18 points, while Ron Martino (15) and Anthony Thomas (11) also finished in double figures for Westminster.
Waynesburg’s balanced attack kept the Yellow Jackets going all game long. In addition to Propst and Turnage Jr., Klase (13), Coleman (12) and Fleegle (10) all scored in double-figures.
The win breaks a three-game skid for the Yellow Jackets, which included a 67-59 loss to Tuesday’s opponent, Saint Vincent.
“As a young team, we want to get experiences like this,” said Christner. “You learn from every experience, and it is nice to not only play in a game like this but to get a win. We had a great crowd and we fed off them tonight. It was an experience we can learn from and build off in the future.”