After 40 minutes, overtime was necessary to determine a winner between Waynesburg University and St. Vincent last night.
Although the teams were even on the scoreboard, the Bearcats [9-6, 4-2] seemed to have the edge.
The already shorthanded Yellow Jackets [3-12, 3-3] had lost 6’10 center Isaiah Alonzo after he succumbed to foul trouble in the last minute of regulation, and were on the verge of losing another starter, Cam Auld, who had four fouls.
With everything going against them, Waynesburg persevered in overtime, and held on for a 73-68 win over the preseason Presidents’ Athletic Conference favorites. It was the first time the Jackets earned a win in Latrobe since 2016, and only the seventh time the Bearcats have lost in the Carey Center since the 2016-17 season.
“They don’t lose a lot here,” head coach Tim Fusina said. “We gave up two sizable leads and battled back. I don’t know if it’s a statement win, but it’s a win that our guys are extremely proud of, and they should be.”
Although the Yellow Jackets led St. Vincent, 25-23, at the half, the Bearcats had gone on a terror to end the opening 20 minutes, answering an 18-2 Waynesburg run by outscoring the Jackets 21-7 down the stretch. If that momentum carried out of the break, hopes of an upset would be dim.
But the Jackets started the second half just as sharp as they did the first half, and with 13:39 to play, Waynesburg had opened up a commanding 17-point lead, 48-31.
Once again, however, the Bearcats got off the ropes.
With 6:45 left, St. Vincent had cut the deficit to single-digits.
With 5:15 to play, it was a one-possession game.
With fewer than four minutes left, St. Vincent had regained the lead at 57-56 on a layup by David Stephen, who finished the night with 14 points.
“They stuck together,” Fusina said. “They never wavered from each other for one second.”
After falling behind for the first time all night, Waynesburg answered the bell. After two free-throws from Josh Duda, who led St. Vincent with 16 points, pushed the lead to three, a jump shot by freshman Ryan Felberg made it 59-58.
The Jackets regained the lead with 1:30 to play when fellow freshman Briston Bennett, who had subbed in 11 seconds earlier, finished a layup.
The teams traded punches for the rest of regulation. With 23 seconds left, Waynesburg clung to a two-point lead when Auld fouled Duda, giving the Bearcats a chance to tie it. Duda cashed in on the opportunity, making both of his foul shots.
Now, overtime was necessary, and the Jackets turned to a senior whose health was in question throughout the week.
With Alonzo out of the game, senior wing Brennan Smith, who is five inches shorter, was relied upon inside more so than usual. Tired and cramping, Smith took over in the overtime period, going 8-8 from the foul line and consistently drawing fouls in the paint.
“I didn’t even practice last week because my knee has been all messed up,” Smith said. “So I wasn’t even going to play, but I did. My legs were cramping, and that was actually a bigger [problem] then my knee.”
Fusina had one word to describe how the fifth-senior performed Wednesday night.
“Tough,” Fusina said. “He’s been somebody who’s been limited in practice and out of five-on-five and contact [activities]… but he’s tough. He’s grown up a lot this year.”
Smith finished with a game-high 27 points. Fellow senior Frank Bozicevic added 20, and Alonzo picked up his fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds each before fouling out.
The win was big for the Yellow Jackets from a moral standpoint, and in the PAC standings as well, as Waynesburg is now an even .500 in conference play. For St. Vincent, the loss puts it a game back of Chatham and Westminster for first place, and in a tie with Grove City for second.
“We’re definitely just trying to take this and run with it,” Smith said. “Just build off this win, learn from it. Even if we had lost tonight, we still played really great. So it’s definitely a positive.”
The Yellow Jackets will return to the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for a matchup with Thiel. With three straight conference wins, Fusina is pleased that the team is finally starting to turn a corner.
“I’m so proud of these guys for sticking together and getting a really tough road win at a place where [St. Vincent doesn’t] really lose,” Fusina said.