BUCKHANNON — The West Virginia Wesleyan men’s basketball team (1-10) made their return to the court following their break over the holidays as they hosted the Salem University Tigers (9-4) at the Rockefeller Center for the team’s final non-conference game of the season this past Saturday, January 1. Entering the game, head coach Derek Sloan’s young Bobcats squad were aiming to shake off their sluggish start of the season, before entering full-fledged MEC conference play. The Bobcats fell short of that goal, losing to the Tigers by 20 points, 86-66. The Bobcats efforts to get their season back on track was once again undone by their defense, struggling to contain the Tigers’ explosive offensive attack.
Despite the loss, not all was doom and gloom for Sloan’s Bobcats, as redshirt freshman forward Jayden Hibbitt led all scorers by pouring in a game-high 29 points to lead all scorers and the Australian product, true freshman forward John Ibukunoluwa posted a career-high 10 points and 7 rebounds. Senior guard Braeden McGrew also had a strong game, playing all 40 minutes on his way to almost posting a triple-double, scoring 11 points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc to go along with a team-high 8 rebounds and 7 assists.
In the first half, the Tigers built up a 15-point lead in the game’s first six minutes before Hibbitt stopped the run with a deep triple. With 10:31 left in the half, Hibbitt would strike from deep again, cutting the Tigers’ lead to single digits. McGrew followed this up with a triple of his own from the corner at the 8:23 mark following a nice feed from true freshman guard Brain Bernard. Bernard would then go on to hit a buzzer beater after collecting a rebound off of a missed free throw and driving the length of the court and hitting a heavily contested two from the left baseline to trim the Tigers’ lead 49-33 at end the first half.
Down 15 points to start the second half, the Bobcats had quite a long way to go if they hoped to get back into the game. The Bobcats started off the second half on a tear, going on a run led by Ibukunoluwa, who scored 6 points in the half’s opening minutes. On the heels of this run, the Bobcats would eventually whittle the Tigers’ lead to 10 points with 16:18 remaining; however, Salem answered with a 12-3 run of their own to bring the score to 67-45 with a little over 10 minutes left. In the end, the Bobcats weren’t quite able to get the game within striking distance, with Salem keeping them at bay with timely scoring runs to close out the game with a 20-point victory, 86-66.
Next up, the WVWC Bobcats will welcome the University of Charleston Golden Eagles to Buckhannon on Wednesday January 5 for a Mountain East Conference matchup. The game is set to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. at the Rockefeller Center.