After a thrilling, but grueling overtime upset win at St. Vincent Wednesday night, one could make the argument that the men’s basketball team deserves a break.
It won’t be getting one this weekend.
Just three days after the win, a shorthanded Yellow Jackets [3-12, 3-3] squad that is only playing eight men at the moment, will take on a talented Thiel Tomcats [4-9, 3-3] team who beat the Bearcats by 16 points when the two teams met in November. For Waynesburg coach Tim Fusina, that result wasn’t a fluke.
“They have great size,” Fusina said. “They have great athleticism. They have guys that want to drive it and get to the rim.”
Saturday’s game at the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse pits two teams that are tied in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference standings at 3-3.
Of Thiel’s five regular starters, only one stands below 6’4, so the Tomcats aren’t lacking in height. Thiel’s leading scorer, Ahmad Tejumola, is 6’8. Thiel makes use of its size, too, leading the PAC in both offensive and defensive rebounding.
Waynesburg might have an answer for the Tomcats’ big men in 6’10 center Isaiah Alonzo. 6’7 Zach Ford will likely see time off the bench as well. Outside of Alonzo and Ford, however, the tallest regular Jacket contributor is 6’5 Brennan Smith. For Fusina, a key for the Jackets will be to keep the ball out of the paint, and force Thiel to beat them with outside shooting.
With Matt Popeck, Sam Heeter and Virgil Walker injured, Waynesburg’s bench is growing increasingly thin. As a result, starters have had to eat up more minutes.
Smith and fellow seniors Cam Auld and Frank Bozicevic are first, second and third in the PAC in average minutes per game. Relying on starters and just a few bench players isn’t ideal, but as Fusina pointed out, it hasn’t bitten the Yellow Jackets yet.
“Our time will probably diminish a little bit, but it hasn’t hurt us,” he said. “We were playing a lot more guys early, but I think if you look at other teams, they were playing a lot of guys early too. When you get into conference play [and] you get to the middle, late January, benches get shorter. So it’s not different right now.”
Four in a row
With a win Saturday, the Jackets would have their first four-game winning streak since the 2017-18 season. For Fusina, the keys to victory are straightforward.
“We have to block out, we have to guard the ball and we have to make them take contested shots on the offensive end, and we have to make them guard,” he said. “I wish I could tell you something profound or something sophisticated in what we have to do to win another game, but it’s the same thing that we’ve been talking about all year. [There’s] no secret to what we have to do to win a game. It’s just tough to do.”