WASHINGTON, PA— If Waynesburg executed the thing it does best, maybe Wednesday night’s result at Washington & Jefferson would have been different.
The Yellow Jackets [4-19, 4-9] shoot free throws better than anybody else in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference, and it’s not close. The Jackets shoot 75% collectively, which is 5% better than the next best team.
So the thought of Waynesburg losing a game because of foul shots seemed about as likely as Joey Chestnut becoming a vegetarian.
Yet, in the second half, Waynesburg didn’t make its free throws, and that was a big reason for the Jackets’ sixth straight loss. The team went 5-13 from the line, and lost by six, 71-65.
Of any setback the Jackets have had all season, this one might hurt most of all.
It wasn’t the most lopsided loss. That came over Christmas break in a non-conference game at Muskingum. It wasn’t the closest call, either. That took place just last week when a putback in the final seconds gave Geneva a 65-63 win at the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse.
But the way Waynesburg lost made this one the most baffling, and the timing of it might have made it the most damaging. Just three weeks ago, the Jackets were in the thick of the PAC title race. Now, they’re one slip up away from falling out of the conference tournament picture entirely.
“It’s the most angry I’ve been,” coach Tim Fusina said.
The Jackets got off to a hot start, taking a 20-12 lead early on, and led 38-28 at the half. Waynesburg did this largely without two of its best players. Point guard Ryan Felberg and center Isaiah Alonzo played just 15 minutes combined due to foul trouble. Brennan Smith led the Jackets with 11 points, and Alonzo scored seven in just eight minutes of play.
Waynesburg’s first foul shot of the second half came roughly four minutes in, when Alonzo, who came in as the best free throw shooter in the conference statistically, failed to finish a three-point play.
What seemed like an outlier turned into a trend.
11 minutes later, Smith, ranked fourth in free throw percentage, was at the line for a one-and-one with the Jackets down, 60-59. He missed the front end, keeping the Presidents [13-10, 8-6] ahead.
A minute and a half later, with the score still the same, Alonzo was back at the line for two more cracks. He missed both.
By the time Waynesburg attempted its next foul shot, the Yellow Jackets were down by six with 30 seconds left, and they’d be down by six when the final buzzer sounded. They missed six of seven foul shots in the second half, leading to their sixth straight loss.
“We missed six of them [in the second half] and lost by six,” Fusina said. “So I’d say that was a pretty big difference tonight.”
For Smith , Waynesburg’s lack of concentration, and weariness late, could have contributed to its lack of success at the charity stripe.
“I would just say our focus, and maybe a little bit of fatigue probably played in at the end down the stretch just trying to make free throws,” Smith, who led the team with 21 points, said. “That’s probably what I would say it was.”
The foul line wasn’t the only flog that whipped Waynesburg. The Presidents badly outrebounded the Jackets in the second half, winning the battle of the boards by 14. Also, a defense that prides itself on not letting the ball touch the paint gave up 34 points in that area.
“We’re a team that talks every single day about not allowing the ball in the paint and keeping the ball off the baseline, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Fusina said.
For W&J, Jonathan DeVito led four double digit scorers with 18. Alexander Skowron  Primo Zini  and Cameron Seemann  also scored in double figures.
Waynesburg remains in eighth in the PAC, one game out of seventh place behind Thiel, but only one game ahead of ninth place Bethany, the only team the Jackets need to finish in front of to qualify for the conference tournament.
The team is back in Greene County Saturday to take on St. Vincent, who Waynesburg beat in Latrobe in mid-January. With only three games left in the regular season, both Fusina and Smith look forward to the future, and hope to soon leave this ugly three-week stretch behind.
“It’s going to be about doing the little things that help you win a game in this league, because everybody is so even,” Fusina said. “I don’t think there’s a team outside of Grove City that’s really separated themselves. So every game is even. Every game comes down to a couple possessions, and the last six games, we haven’t done the little things to deserve a win.”
For Smith, the team getting out of the gutter depends only on them.
“We’re the only people who are in this,” Smith said. “We’re the only ones who can fix it.