Washington & Jefferson College is celebrating 100 years of basketball this weekend.
The current edition of the Presidents, however, are celebrating eight minutes of dominant basketball played Saturday afternoon.
W&J used a 12-0 run over an eight-minute stretch of the second half to take control against Westminster, then had to hold off a furious comeback by the Titans before settling for a 69-66 victory in a Presidents’ Athletic Conference game at Henry Memorial Center.
The game wasn’t decided until a three-point shot from the right wing by Westminster’s Charlie Wallander rimmed out as time expired.
The game started a stretch of four consecutive home conference contests for W&J (5-4, 10-8). The Presidents will host PAC leader Saint Vincent Wednesday night and play Thiel and Waynesburg during the homestand.
“This is when we need to make a move in the standings,” said W&J junior forward Nate Bellhy, who led the Presidents with game highs of 20 points and 15 rebounds in only 27 minutes of playing time.
W&J made its move against Westminster (2-6, 3-15) in the second half. Clinging to a 51-49 lead with 10:30 remaining, the Presidents embarked on the pivotal 12-0 run, which was bookended by free throws – four total – by Bellhy. In between, W&J’s Doug Johnson sank two three-pointers – including one from deep in the right corner – over Westminster’s 2-3 zone defense and Mitch Locher made a turnaround jumper from the lane.
Meanwhile, Westminster missed nine consecutive shots and two free throws before finally ending the scoring drought on a layup by Anthony Thomas with 2:15 remaining.
“There was a segment during the second half in which we did a really good job,” W&J coach Glenn Gutierrez said. “Mitch Locher made a basket from the paint, we hit a couple of three-pointers and Nate got the free-throw line. What happened during that stretch is we passed the ball and moved (Westminster’s) zone. When you make a zone defense move, then you’re going to get seams.”
Westminster made it interesting at the end by making three three-point shots in the final 100 seconds, including one by Thomas that drew the Titans to within 69-66.
W&J’s Tyler Haas missed two free throws with 25 seconds left, and Westminster then played for the game-tying shot. Wallander, at 6-4, was able to shoot over a smaller defender, but the shot did not drop.
“Defensively, I thought the entire game we played really good,” Gutierrez said. “We made a couple of mistakes at the end, but with the exception of those snafus we were good defensively.”
Brett Rubin-Goldstein and Locher came off the bench to combine for 24 points and give a sluggish W&J attack a spark in the first half. Rubin-Goldstein had 14 points and made four three-pointers, including one at the buzzer that gave the Presidents a 35-26 lead at the break.
Johnson scored 12 points for the Presidents, who hope to use the four consecutive home games to strengthen their position for next month’s PAC tournament. While Gutierrez likes that his team will be at home until Feb. 8, he says the schedule shouldn’t be so backloaded with home games.
“I don’t think it should ever have four home or road conference games in a row. I voiced my displeasure a few years ago when we had four straight road games,” Gutierrez said. “It makes these four games really big games. We played well on the road in the first half of the schedule, now we have a chance to play well in the second half.”
Thomas led Westminster with 18 points. Paul Carswell had 12 before fouling out, and Matt Getsy scored 10.