WEST LIBERTY – Dusan Vicentic nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to finish off an improbable comeback for the West Virginia Wesleyan Bobcats and lift them to a dramatic 94-91 victory over the No. 14th-ranked West Liberty Hilltoppers.
Wesleyan trailed by as many as 22 points during the game and were still down double digits at 14 points with 7:42 left to play, but the comeback was led by one of the most efficient shooting halves in Bobcat history as Wesleyan made 80 percent of their second half shots.
Wesleyan missed just six field goal attempts in the second half as they connected on 24 of their 30 shots.
“For the first time as a coach, I felt every shot we took was going to go in,” remarked Wesleyan head coach Nick Patella. “Usually, you think every shot the other team takes is going to go in. I truly think it was meant to be our night and we believed it!”
The Bobcats trailed the entire game until the 1:33 mark of the second half when Luka Petrovic went inside the paint and scored on a lay-up to give Wesleyan an 88-87 lead.
Luke Dyer made two foul shots 10 seconds later to return the lead to West Liberty, at 89-88.
Daylin Lee then hit a huge three-pointer for Wesleyan as they took a 91-89 lead with a minute remaining.
Preston Boswell deadlocked the game for West Liberty with a lay-up with 14 seconds remaining, at 91-91.
Wesleyan then put the ball in the hands of their senior Vicentic and he nailed his three-point attempt at the buzzer to give Wesleyan the 94-91 victory.
Patella credited the comeback to a simple approach during halftime.
“During halftime, we talked about one possession at a time,” remarked Patella. “We had 14 (self-inflicted) turnovers and our goal was less than 16 for the game. We just had an honest talk about if we take care of the ball what could be. No one was yelling or screaming at each other. We stayed calm and addressed what we had to do to win the game.”
The contest couldn’t have started any worse for Wesleyan though as they fell behind by a 15-0 score.
Braeden McGrew finally put Wesleyan on the scoreboard four minutes into the game with a lay-up.
West Liberty stretched their first-half lead to 22 points, at 38-16, with 5:31 remaining.
Wesleyan was able to trim their deficit down to 18 at the break, at 44-26.
For the first three minutes of the half, West Liberty kept their lead at 18, at 55-37.
Wesleyan started to cut into the lead with a 5-0 run that knocked it down to 13, at 55-42.
They finally trimmed the lead into single digits following another trey by Lee that made it a 60-51 contest with 14:14 left.
A 9-5 run by West Liberty extended their lead back to 13, at 69-56, with 9:29 remaining and an old-fashioned three-point play by Hilltopper Will Yoakum pushed it 14, at 77-63, with 7:42 remaining.
Wesleyan again started to chip away at the lead with a 7-0 run capped off by a three-pointer by Vicentic making it a 77-70 game with 6:52 left.
With West Liberty still holding a six-point lead, at 87-81, Petrovic made a pair of free throws and Lee drained another three-pointer to bring Wesleyan to within one, at 87-86, with 1:51 remaining.
Petrovic put in the lay-up to give Wesleyan the lead and set up the final 90 seconds of action.
“We hope, at the end of our season, we look at this game as the turning point of our season - not our entire season,” stated Patella. “What I think this does for our team is now we have a great reference point to say, ‘We know we can do it.’ It was the first time our guys truly trusted me moreover themselves. That isn’t a knock on our team. It’s nature, as humans, to try and take control of situations when we feel things are spiraling down. I can’t thank my team enough for trusting a game plan and trusting each other. We must continue to trust.”
Lee came off the bench to lead the Bobcat offense with 23 points while Clay Todd and Ross Young each scored 16.
West Liberty was led by Dalton Bolon who scored 19.
The loss dropped West Liberty to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the MEC.
Wesleyan improved to 2-6 overall and 2-1 in the MEC.
The Bobcats will return to action Saturday when they host Wheeling at 4 p.m.
“I just want to thank every supporter we have,” concluded Patella. “I can’t tell you how many text messages I received from some numbers I still don’t know and from alumni who I didn’t even know follow us. They support a team, not a win and loss record. That’s what it’s about. We all belong to Bobcat Nation and have the best in mind for our student-athletes. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement of our young men and women.”
West Virginia Wesleyan 26 68 – 94
West Liberty 44 47 – 91
West Virginia Wesleyan 94
Daylin Lee 7-12 5-10 23; Clay Todd 6-9 2-2 16; Ross Young 5-8 6-7 16; Dusan Vicentic 6-9 0-0 15; Luka Petrovic 4-9 4-5 13; Braeden McGrew 3-3 0-0 7; Tommie Pope 1-2 0-0 2; Anthony Garcia 1-3 0-0 2; Marcus Larsson 0-0 0-0 0; Cameron Ramage 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 33-56 17-24 94.
West Liberty 91
Dalton Bolon 8-18 0-0 19; Marlon Moore Jr. 6-12 0-0 14; Preston Boswell 5-8 2-4 12; Pat Robinson III 2-7 4-5 12; Luke Dyer 3-3 2-2 11; Will Yoakum 3-6 1-1 8; Malik McKinney 2-4 1-2 6; Owen Hazelbaker 2-3 0-0 6; Bryce Butler 1-7 0-0 0; Jon Allessandro 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 33-70 10-14 91.
Three-point field goals – West Virginia Wesleyan: Lee 4-5; Vicentic 3-4; Todd 2-2; McGrew 1-1; Petrovic 1-4. Totals 11-16; West Liberty: Dyer 3-3; Bolon 3-7; Hazelbaker 2-3; Robinson III 2-3; Moore 2-4; McKienney 1-2; Yoakum 1-2; Butler 1-4; Boswell 0-1; Allessandro 0-1. Totals 15-30.
Rebounds – West Virginia Wesleyan: Vicentic 6; Petrovic 6; Lee 5; Todd 4; Young 4; team 4; McGrew 3; Larsson 2; Garcia 1. Totals 35; West Liberty: Moore 8; Bolon 7; Dyer 4; Butler 3; team 3; Robinson III 2; Boswell 1; McKinney 1; Allessandro 1. Totals 30.
Assists – West Virginia Wesleyan: Petrovic 4; McGrew 4; Todd 3; Lee 2; Young 1; Vicentic 1. Totals 15; West Liberty: Dyer 5; Boswell 4; Bolon 3; Yoakum 3; Robinson III 2; McKinney 1; Butler 1; Allesandro 1. Totals 20.
Steals – West Virginia Wesleyan: Todd 5; Vicentic 1; Pope 1. Totals 7; West Liberty: Moore 3; Boswell 3; Dyer 2; Robinson III 2; Butler 1. Totals 11.
Blocked shots – West Virginia Wesleyan: Vicentic 3; Larsson 1. Totals 4; West Liberty: Moore 1; Yoakum 1. Totals 2.
Turnovers – West Virginia Wesleyan: 18; West Liberty: 11.
Personal fouls – West Virginia Wesleyan: 14; West Liberty 18.