PREVIEW: Men look to rebound from 80-63 loss

The Presidents’ Athletic Conference’s men’s basketball season, to this point, can perhaps best be described as “St. Vincent and everybody else.”

As of this publication, the Bearcats (18-3, 11-1) had a 3.5 game lead on second-place Grove City, with their lone conference loss coming at Westminster Feb. 2.

Waynesburg University will face a tall task in Latrobe this Saturday when it faces St. Vincent for the second time this season.

The Bearcats are led by two of the PAC’s top performers in senior forward Tom Kromka and sophomore guard David Stephen, who, as of Wednesday, were tied for third in the conference in scoring average at 16.4 points per game each. Another key contributor is sophomore forward Shemar Bennett (12.1 PPG). Collectively, St. Vincent averages 81.1 points per game to top the conference, and is third in the PAC in rebounding margin.

“From my chair, they’re a balanced group,” Waynesburg head coach Mark Christner said. “They have the interior [play] and those three guys, really, are tough for anybody to match up with in our league I think, but they also have assertive wing [players]. David Stephen probably has asserted himself as one of the better perimeter players in our conference. So, they have that going for them… I think they’re assertive. I’m not sure that’s always been the case with a St. Vincent group, but it is with this one.”

In the first meeting, which took place Jan. 9 at the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse, the Bearcats started the game with a 30-8 run and cruised to an 88-75 win. For Christner, falling behind early is what led to the Jackets falling short.

“Once we got our feet under us [after] the first five or six minutes or so, I thought the game played out how it needed to for us,” Christner said. “I thought we were able to do some things offensively to spread them out.”

Waynesburg was led by sophomore guard Matt Popeck, who scored 21 points and was 9-14 from the field.

Kromka paced the Bearcats, with 28 points and 10 rebounds, both of which were game highs. In addition to being one of the PAC’s top scorers, Kromka is second in the conference in rebounding average (8.3).

Christner also cited the play of Bennett (15 points, eight rebounds, five assists) and fellow sophomore forward Ryan Dutton (13 points) as something that hurt Waynesburg in the first contest.

“[Kromka is] just really overly physical, so I think we have to do a good job defensive positing wise [to] try to make his touches difficult, and [for] Bennett and Dutton as well, those guys hurt us as well,” he said.

Coming into Wednesday’s game against Washington & Jefferson at Marisa Fieldhouse, the Yellow Jackets were tied for sixth in the PAC with a modest 5-7 record, but just 1.5 games behind Westminster, W&J and Chatham—all three of which Waynesburg has beaten this season—for third.

Along with facing the PAC’s top team, Waynesburg will be playing at the Carey Center, where the Bearcats are 11-0 this season and haven’t lost since Bethany upset them in the first round of last year’s PAC tournament. Tipoff is at 6:00 p.m.