Bethany holds off cold-shooting Waynesburg

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WAYNESBURG – A year ago, coach Mark Christner’s Waynesburg University men’s basketball team was young and experienced their share of growing pains in conference play.

But with that year of experience, Waynesburg hopes to be a factor in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference this year.

The Yellow Jackets got their first conference test of the season Wednesday and competed well with PAC powerhouse and undefeated Bethany for most of the night but ultimately found themselves with a 68-65 loss in a hard-fought game.

“Bethany is a good team and we gave them a fight,” said Christner. “We probably didn’t maintain the energy level we needed in the second half to beat a quality team like them. But I keep telling the guys that’s it is a process. Everyone has a job to do out there. We know we are a pretty good team, and this loss isn’t going to make or break our season. We think we can do some good things in this conference.”

Despite falling behind by 11 points early on, the Yellow Jackets clawed back and managed to take a 34-33 halftime lead despite shooting only 27 percent from the floor.

That was largely in part because of a Yellow Jackets defense that made things very tough for the Bison ball-handlers as Waynesburg forced 11 Bethany turnovers in the first half.

Waynesburg (0-1, 4-3) used those turnovers to get back into the game and eventually swung some momentum their way on back-to-back three-pointers from Trinity graduate Christian Koroly, the second of which gave Waynesburg its first lead at 25-24.

But as good as the Yellow Jackets played on the defensive end, they were equally as bad at the offensive end.

“When you shoot 31 percent on the night, you have to defend,” said Christner. “We missed a lot of opportunities but made some tough shots as well. Bethany deserves a lot of credit also. They are tough to play against and don’t give up easy baskets.”

Waynesburg couldn’t pull away from the Bison as they made only 5-of-18 attempts from the floor during the first 12 minutes of the second half before finally heating up down the stretch. After falling behind 57-49 with just over five minutes to play, the Yellow Jackets pulled within one point four different times in the final two minutes but could never get over the hump.

“It was almost too little too late,” said Christner. “We made a charge late and I loved the guys effort all night but we waited too long to start making shots.”

Bethany (1-0, 5-0) didn’t shoot it much better, but Waynesburg got in early foul trouble in the second half and the Bison were able to gain the lead with repeated trips to the free-throw line. They also cut down on their mistakes, turning the ball over only two times in the second half.

In a back-and-forth game in which both teams had trouble scoring, Waynesburg’s excellent free-throw shooting kept them in the game early, but Bethany made 18 trips to the stripe in the second half after attempting only five free throws during the first 20 minutes.

“We stressed that at halftime,” Bethany head coach Andrew Sachs said. “We got more aggressive and started to drive more instead of settling for jump shots. We are a team that likes to turn you over and run, and we didn’t get many opportunities. Waynesburg did a good job of handling our pressure. It’s a win, though. I will take it.”

The Yellow Jackets had a chance to tie the game with 1:37 left but Thomas Ellis missed a free-throw. Then, down by one with 13 seconds remaining, Ellis missed a corner three-point shot coming out of a timeout that could have given Waynesburg the win.

Waynesburg was led in scoring by Jacob Fleegle with 12 points. Kenny Klase also finished in double figures with 10.

Bethany’s Lawrence Weldon and Kevin Jackson each finished with a game-high 15 points. Jackson also led all players with 11 rebounds.

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