On the surface, Saturday’s men’s basketball game against Washington & Jefferson was a classic “tale of two halves” style of contest.
After 20 minutes, the Presidents [8-6, 3-3] were in command, holding a 47-33 lead. In the second half, however, Waynesburg [2-12, 2-3] dominated, outscoring its I-79 rival 52-23 to pull away with an 85-70 win.
For Yellow Jackets’ coach Tim Fusina, however, his team played well for more than just the second half, pointing out that, aside from an 18-1 Presidents run before halftime, Saturday was a complete effort for the Yellow Jackets, who are now on a two-game winning streak.
“Outside of a five minute stretch, I thought we were pretty good for a majority of [the game],” Fusina said. “For 35 minutes, I thought we were the better team, and statistically I think that would prove that.”
Although Fusina found the first half scoreline deceiving, he, like everybody else, also knew his team performed a lot better over the final 20 minutes, particularly on defense, where the Jackets held the Presidents to just 18% shooting in the second half and 1-12 from three point land, compared to 56% and 6-12 respectively in the first half.
“We guarded the ball better,” Fusina said. “We were contesting shots better, we blocked out better… I thought we suffocate them defensively… we made them take bad shots all over the place, and we got great shots on our end.”
Another difference for the Jackets was freshman point guard Ryan Felberg. Felberg, whose received a baptism by fire this season due to the Jackets losing regular point guard Matt Popeck to injury in November, had a career-high 16 points in last Saturday’s win at Geneva. He outdid himself against the Presidents, scoring 22 points, 15 in the second half, on 7-11 shooting. Felberg also played 37 minutes, second only to senior Cam Auld, who played 38.
“It’s tough to take him off the floor… he handles [the ball] for us,” Fusina said. “He makes shots. He’s able to get his shot off whenever he wants… He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, and he should be, because he’s playing very well.”
Another freshman guard that stepped up for the Jackets was Briston Bennett. Bennett, who saw a season-high 26 minutes off the bench, scored a career-high 12 points on 5-5 shooting. For Fusina, Bennett has grown quite comfortable in his role as the sixth man.
“He’s been doing that for the last month and a half now,” he said. “He keeps getting better in practice. He gets better game to game. He understands what we want to do. He plays with a high level of thought, and he has a high IQ for the game.”
In addition to the two rookies, upperclassmen stepped up as well. Senior Frank Bozicevic matched his season high with 21 points, 15 coming from beyond-the-arc, where he was 5-5. Fellow senior Auld played 38 minutes, and scored 11 points. Sophomore center Isaiah Alonzo also broke double figures for the Jackets, scoring 12 points.
Waynesburg’s next contest will be in Latrobe against St. Vincent. Tipoff is at 7:30.
With two straight wins, Fusina feels the team’s mentality is finally starting to translate to positive results.
“I think there’s a strong belief in what we’re doing right now,” Fusina said. “It’s because nobody has wavered. We have not wavered in what we teach, we have not wavered in how we approach practice and how we approach a game and how we approach our preparation, and the players haven’t wavered in their level of buy in [for] what we’re trying to do.”