LATROBE – Waynesburg University’s men’s basketball team knew the road to a Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship would run through defending champion Saint Vincent. The Bearcats’ Dillon Stith and Isaac Turner put up an impressive road block Thursday night.
Stith and Turner, the two savy seniors on Saint Vincent’s roster, each scored 25 points and the Bearcats pulled away over the final seven minutes to defeat Waynesburg, 89-78, in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament semifinals at the Carey Center.
The win sends Saint Vincent (21-6), the No. 3 seed, to Crestview Hills, Ky., Saturday night for the championship game against No. 2 seed Thomas More, which defeated surprising No. 9-seed Geneva in the other semifinal. It is a rematch of last year’s title game.
Waynesburg (15-12), a team with only one senior, saw the end of its six-game winning streak, which included a victory over Saint Vincent last week in the regular season. This time, in the postseason, Waynesburg couldn’t stop Turner and Stith, two tournament-tested standouts.
Turner, the Bearcats’ point guard, used his drives through the Waynesburg defense to get the Yellow Jackets’ big men in early foul trouble, and Stith, a 6-5 forward, dominated inside, grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds. Turner and Smith combined to make 21 of 26 free throws.
“We have a lot of tournament experience,” Saint Vincent coach D.P. Harris said. “Waynesburg is a very good. They’re a team of the future. We could meet in the championship game next year.
“In this game, our guys who have been there before, Turner and Stith, didn’t lose their composure down the stretch. It’s good to have experienced seniors.”
The game was close until the final seven minutes, when Saint Vincent broke a 61-61 tie by embarking on a 19-4 run over a four-minute stretch.
“I thought we competed with great effort,” Waynesburg coach Mark Christner said. “We missed some shots down the stretch and had a hard time guarding without fouling.”
Stith, who had two thunderous dunks, started the charge with a three-point play that gave Saint Vincent a 64-61 advantage, the 12th lead change of the second half. Stith added a three-pointer from the right wing over tight defense by Waynesburg’s Jacob Fleegle that made it a 74-63 game with 3:45 left, taking the steam out of the Yellow Jackets.
Guard Ben Klimchock then delivered Saint Vincent’s knockout punch by making consecutive three-pointers to cap the big run.
Waynesburg lost despite a freshman guard Christian Koroly coming off the bench and scoring a career-high 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting. The Trinity High School graduate gave the Yellow Jackets a spark in the first half by making consecutive three-pointers and adding two free throws after a steal and layup by Thomas Ellis. It was part of a run that helped Waynesburg cut into a 10-point deficit and pull to within 40-38 at halftime.
Waynesburg scored the first five points of the second half, then the teams traded the lead until Saint Vincent made its final push.
The Yellow Jackets couldn’t overcome foul trouble and a lack of rebounding. Junior forward Jason Propst, the Jackets’ leading scorer, was held to four points and played only 20 minutes. He drew his third foul in the first half and added his fourth less than 90 seconds into the second half. Waynesburg also didn’t have an offensive rebound until Koroly tipped in a miss to give the Jackets a 51-50 lead.
“Not having Jason was really important, and Tyler (Miller) was in foul trouble as well,” Christner said. “We got hurt on the boards. We stressed during timeouts and at halftime that we weren’t going to the boards hard.”
Stith and Sean Klett (16 points) combined for nine offensive rebounds for the Bearcats and turned the majority of those into points.
In the end, Waynesburg just didn’t have enough rebounding or a way to stop Turner’s driving penetration to pull out a victory. Still, it was a very good late-season charge by the Jackets, who lose only one senior, guard E.J. Coleman, who scored 12 points. Junior forward Thomas Ellis had 10 points.
“This was new territory for us,” Christner said. “We got over the hump and played well in February. I’m proud of the way we got better.”
Christner said this year’s tournament experience could come in handy next season, when the Yellow Jackets will be a senior-laden team and return point guard Casey Hope, who sat out the second half of this season with a knee injury.
“Every year you’ve got to raise the bar,” Christner said. “It’s getting harder to stay in the room. We have good players, but we’re also trying to get high-caliber student-athletes. We have to get more athletic so we can compete with Bethany and Saint Vincent. We still have a way to go. We learned to play as a group and how to win in this conference.”