Jackets fall to Grove City, drop to 4-5 in conference play

What a difference a week makes. 

Last Saturday, the Yellow Jackets’ men’s basketball team was buzzing, having followed up an overtime thriller at St. Vincent with a double-digit win over Thiel to improve to 4-3 in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. 

With 1-15 Bethany next on the docket, it looked like a fifth straight win was on the menu. 

But the Jackets [4-14, 4-5] came out flat in West Virginia, and ended up being Bethany’s first PAC victim.

Back in Greene County for a Saturday matinee clash with Grove City, Waynesburg had a chance to get back in the thick of the PAC championship race. Head coach Tim Fusina saw the Wolverines at the cream of the crop in the PAC, and they played like it against the Yellow Jackets, completing a season sweep of Waynesburg with an 80-58 win. 

“Grove City is well coached,” Fusina said. “Grove City is disciplined. They defend at a high level, and they are very efficient offensively. They’re the best team in our league. By far.”

Fifth-year senior Brennan Smith, who led Waynesburg with 15 points, didn’t deny Grove City’s [9-7, 6-2]  talent. Smith, however, felt that the loss was more about what the Jackets didn’t do than what the Wolverines did.

“Hats off to Grove City,” Smith said. “But there’s a lot we have to work on internally. So I would just say, we lost the game more than they won the game.”

There was certainly a lot that Waynesburg left on the table on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Jackets shot just 44% from the field and were 4-15 on three-pointers, the second straight game Waynesburg shot fewer than 45%.

On defense, the Jackets didn’t prevent Grove City from making shots. The Wolverines shot a modest 48% from the field, but where they did their damage  from was downtown. Grove City came in as the second best three-point shooting team in the PAC, and lived up to that Saturday, going 5-9 from beyond-the-arc. 

On both sides of the ball, the Wolverines had their way with the Jackets in rebounding. Grove City had more offensive rebounds [24] than Waynesburg did total rebounds [19].

“That’s one of our strengths,” Wolverines’ forward James Wells, who finished with a game-high 25 points on 10-15 shooting, said. “We go out every day, and that’s part of our game plan. Just killing the glass.”

For the first 13 minutes, Waynesburg hung with Grove City, taking a 23-22 lead with a little under eight minutes to play in the first half. The Wolverines answered, however, with a 9-0 run. A three-pointer by Justice Rice, who with 17 points and nine rebounds was the only other Grove City player who finished in double-figures, gave the Wolverines a double-digit lead with 3:07 to play in the half. Grove City continued to build momentum for the rest of the first 20 minutes, and had a commanding 46-29 lead at the break. 

That 9-0 run turned out to be the apple in the Garden of Eden for Waynesburg, and the Jackets never bounced back. For Smith, not being able to weather the storm was the main reason why this week didn’t go as well for Waynesburg as last week did. 

“Just staying together, we didn’t really do that like we did against St. Vincent,” Smith said. “So that would probably be the difference.”

Along with Smith, Isaiah Alonzo [13 points], Ryan Felberg [12] and Frank Bozicevic [10] all scored in double-figures for the Jackets. 

The Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse had been somewhat of a House of Horrors for Steve Lamie’s squad in recent years. The last time the Wolverines left Greene County with a win was during the 2012-13 season.

Despite a respectable crowd led by a “Blackout” themed student section, the Wolverines took care of business in their first game in Waynesburg of the new decade.

“As we go into a gym over the course of a career or over the course of a season, you want to come back to it eventually with a good taste in your mouth,” Wells said. “We knew it was time to break that streak for us and to have confidence going forward.”

Grove City’s sixth straight win, combined with Chatham’s loss at Westminster, puts the Wolverines in sole possession of first place in the PAC.

On the other side, although Waynesburg isn’t drowning like it was in late December at 0-12, the Jackets also aren’t swimming upstream like they seemed to be last week. With games against Chatham and Westminster coming up, the road isn’t getting easier.

For Fusina, if Waynesburg can get good looks offensively, it will be fine. If not, more disappointing weeks like this might be in the future. 

“The last two games, we have not gotten great shots,” Fusina said. “We haven’t worked for great shots, and if we can do that, we’ll be ok. But that remains to be seen, because we did not have a very good week this week.”