BUCKHANNON – A dreadful start to their Wednesday night Mountain East Conference game with UVa.-Wise didn’t deter the West Virginia Wesleyan Bobcats from continuing to battle and pull out an 81-69 victory at Rockefeller Center.
The Bobcats simply weren’t clicking on offense or defense in the first five minutes of the game that saw them fall behind by 15, at 17-2.
The ‘Cats rallied to be behind by only four at halftime and then used a monstrous second half to get past the Cavaliers.
The ‘Cats scored 52 points in the second half shooting the ball at a 50 percent clip including shooting 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc making good on eight of 16 attempts.
Wesleyan also went to the line 23 times in the second half making good on 18 of them for 78.3 percent.
“I was very proud of our guys for staying the course against UVa.-Wise,” remarked Wesleyan head coach Jack Meriwether. “After going down by 15, we never panicked and just stuck with how we want to play. Once we played with better offensive discipline, we were able to get settled on defense and we gave a great effort.”
It was a huge December victory for Meriwether and his Bobcats as they entered the game on a three-game slide.
The win put the Bobcats back at .500 overall at 4-4 and 2-3 in the MEC, placing them in a fifth-place tie in the conference standings.
“The MEC is one of the best leagues in the country,” Meriwether stated. “Most teams in the league can beat or lose to anyone on any given night. We had a difficult stretch playing the top two teams in the league (West Liberty and Fairmont State) and we went on the road against a strong Shepherd squad. We have been a little banged up. We felt like in all three losses we were in the games but just struggled making the shots we wanted to take and making enough winning plays down the stretch.
“Against UVa.-Wise, we stayed the course and trusted that eventually shots would fall and our defensive discipline and activity would prevail and it did.”
Senior forward/guard Fred Brondsted led the Bobcats with a team-high 22 points and eight rebounds. He was five of six from behind the three-point arc.
“I think Fred is one of the best shooters in the country,” Meriwether remarked. “He has gone through a little lull the past few games, but we are always confident if we can get him free, he will make shots. More than his scoring though I am proud of his eight rebounds. We needed him to make shots, defend and rebound and he checked every box against the UVa.-Wise.”
After falling behind by the 17-2 score, Wesleyan trailed 20-7 before they started to make their comeback when Bronsted and Dusan Vicentic made back-to-back 3-pointers to get the deficit down to seven, at 20-13, with 10 minutes left in the first half.
A Luke Petrovic jumper for Wesleyan closed the gap to two, at 31-29, but Eric Okenchi hit a shot for UVa.-Wise that wrapped up the first half scoring keeping the Cavaliers ahead by four, at 33-29.
UVa.-Wise pushed their lead back to eight, at 41-33 with four minutes gone in the second half, but a pair of free throws by Adam Horton gave Wesleyan their first lead, at 47-46, with 12:38 left in the game.
The two teams traded the lead back and fourth over the next four minutes with Wesleyan trailing by two, at 58-56, with 8:39 remaining.
Wesleyan went on an 8-0 run to take a 64-58 lead that they never relinquished.
A 3-pointer by Brondsted extended the Wesleyan to lead to 14, at 75-61, with three minutes left.
The closest UVa.-Wise could get during the final three minutes was 10 points.
Vicentic and Clay Todd each scored double digits for Wesleyan scoring 16 and 13 respectively.
Okenchi scored a game-high 24 points for UVa.-Wise while Michal Seals scored 16.
“Seals is one of the best players in our league,” Meriwether concluded. “I thought our team did a great job of defending him as a group and making him earn the things he got.”
Wesleyan will now be off a week for finals and will return to action in a non-conference game Wednesday when they visit Salem for a 7 p.m. contest.
UVa.-Wise 33 36 – 69
West Virginia Wesleyan 29 52 – 81
Eric Okenchi 10-14 4-6 24, Michal Seals 4-11 5-5 16, Briggs Parris 3-12 0-0 9, Cameron Whiteside 2-3 0-0 4, Kaeleb Carter 1-1 0-3 3, Chance Sheffey 3-10 0-1 7, Josh Thomas 0-5 4-4 4, Jordan Pointer 1-2 0-0 2, Rahji Langford 0-2 0-0 0, Jordan Twyman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-60 13-19 69.
West Virginia Wesleyan 81
Fred Brondsted 6-12 5-6 22, Dusan Vicentic 6-15 1-1 16, Clay Todd 5-11 3-6 13, Dedan Williams 3-5 0-1 7, Luka Petrovic 1-4 3-4 5, Edward Flohr 2-2 2-2 7, Adam Horton 1-3 2-2 5, Marcus Larsson 0-2 4-4 4, Jalen Melvin 0-2 2-2 2, Braeden McGrew 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-56 22-28 81.
Three-point field goals – Uva.-Wise: Parris 3-12, Seals 3-7, Carter 1-1, Sheffey 1-6, Whiteside 0-1, Thomas 0-2. Totals 8-29; West Virginia Wesleyan: Fred Brondsted 5-10, Vicentic 3-9, Williams 1-3, Horton 1-3, Flohr 1-1, Todd 0-3, Larsson 0-2, Melvin 0-1. Totals 11-35.
Rebounds – Uva.-Wise: Okenchi 11, Carter 6, Thomas 6, Sheffey 5, Whiteside 3, Seals 2, Parris 1, Pointer 1. Total 35; West Virginia Wesleyan: Brondsted 8, Todd 5, Williams 4, Vicentic 3, Petrovic 3, Melvin 3, Larsson 2, Flohr 1, McGrew 1. Totals 30.
Assists – Uva.-Wise: Seals 6, Whiteside 2, Sheffey 2, Thomas 2, Parris 1. Totals 13; West Virginia Wesleyan: Todd 5, Petrovic 3, Melvin 2, McGrew 2, Williams 1, Flohr 1. Totals 14.
Steals – Uva.-Wise: Okenchi 2, Sheffey 2, Seals 1, Parris 1, Whiteside 1, Carter 1, Langford 1. Totals 9; West Virginia Wesleyan: Todd 2, Williams 2, Petrovic 2, Horton 2, Brondsted 1, Melvin 1. Totals 10.
Blocks – Uva.-Wise: None; West Virginia Wesleyan: Vicentic 1, Melvin 1, McGrew 1. Totals 3.
Personal fouls – Uva.-Wise: 22; West Virginia Wesleyan: 19.
Turnovers – Uva.-Wise: 15; West Virginia Wesleyan: 16.