Two minutes into the fourth quarter of Monday night’s first round Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament game against Bethany, Waynesburg coach Sam Jones had to take a timeout.
Everything was fine on the scoreboard. The Yellow Jackets led by eight. The problem was, just a minute earlier, the Jackets had their hands on Bethany’s throat, and now had allowed the Bison room to breathe.
Waynesburg led by 15 points with 9:17 to play, but moments later, a Bethany basket cut that lead to single digits.
Jones let his team take the ball up the floor, and then called timeout.
“[I told them] Just to settle down and make sure that we got back to doing what we needed to do,” he said. “We cleaned up a couple things defensively, changed how we were guarding for one specific player. But really, it was just about getting our minds right, letting them have their little run and then putting an end to it.”
Whether that time out was the key or not, put an end to it, they did. The next basket made by either side was an Erin Joyce three-pointer that pushed the Jackets’ lead to 11, and from there, sixth-seeded Waynesburg [8-18] led by double-digits for all but 17 seconds and kept its season alive with a 79-63 win, beating seventh-seeded Bethany [6-20] for the third time overall and second time in just over 48 hours.
The Jackets now move on to the quarterfinals, where they’ll look to upset third-seeded Westminster Wednesday night.
It was the first playoff game— men or women— at the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse in two years. At that time, sophomore Brooke Fuller was a senior at Hampton High School, so until tonight, she had never played in a college basketball playoff game at home.
The atmosphere wasn’t normal, and Fuller, who finished with a team-high 16 points, took notice.
“It was electrifying,” Fuller said. “The first two minutes, the crowd was wild. They were vibrating the gym, and I really think that affected Bethany, and that really helped us.”
Coming into the game, one of the goals for Jones and the Jackets was to make sure the tempo suited them and not Bethany. Waynesburg is third in the PAC in scoring average, and the Bison are eighth, ahead of only winless Thiel, so the Jackets wanted to play an up-tempo brand of basketball.
The pace didn’t suit Waynesburg in the first half of Saturday’s game, which partially led to the Jackets scoring just 30 first half points and being tied with Bethany going in to the locker room.
This time around, the flow was to Waynesburg’s liking— the team scored 42 points in the first half, putting itself on pace to score 84 for the night. But the Bison kept up fairly well, and ended the first 20 minutes down by only six.
Bethany staying with a fast tempo didn’t surprise Jones, but he was confident that it wouldn’t last.
“That’s what we talked about at halftime was just keeping it going, because I think I showed in the second half,” he said. “When we kept the pace at it, they had a hard time continuing throughout the whole game.”
It was a bittersweet night for Waynesburg’s mini-senior class. Erin Joyce and Alli DeLaney, the Jackets’ only two graduating players, were honored in the traditional senior day festivities Saturday afternoon, but tonight most likely marked the last time they’ll play in the Marisa Fieldhouse.
Both contributed to the win. DeLaney finished just behind Fuller for the team lead with 15 points, and Joyce scored11 points, adding five assists.
The 11 points were a season high for Joyce, but it was her defense that gave her the most satisfaction.
“I was moving my feet pretty well for the most part, and I made plays happen on defense, which translated into confidence on the offensive end,” she said.
Kacey Kastroll and Leighton Croft also came up big off the bench, scoring 14 and 11 points respectively.
For Bethany, Courtney Walker scored a game high 22. The Jackets kept the Bison’s leading scorer in check Saturday, holding her to just six points, but weren’t as fortunate Monday.
“We changed how we were guarding a specific screen for her,” Jones said. “A kid like that is going to get her [points], quite honestly. So you just have to make them work as hard as possible for it, and often when they do that, it takes away the flow of the game, it takes away opportunities for other kids because they’re working so hard. So we really just wanted to make her work hard, and make sure that someone else didn’t join her in going off tonight.”
That defensive strategy proved to be effective. Aside from Walker, Haylie Glass [14 points] was the only Bethany player to crack double figures.
In the quarterfinals. the Jackets move from a team they haven’t lost to this season to a team they haven’t beaten. For Joyce, the keys to a win are nothing out of the ordinary.
“We have to play our game at our tempo,” she said. “Don’t let them dictate what we’re going to do, we’re going to dictate what they’re going to do, and play with confidence. They got us twice, and we’re hungry.”