Thiel stings Waynesburg for fourth-straight loss

The Waynesburg University men’s basketball team (12-11, 8-8 PAC) hosted Thiel College (6-15, 5-10) this past Monday Feb. 14 for a Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) matchup at the Rudy Marisa Fieldhouse. The Valentines Day showdown would not end well for Waynesburg, as Thiel would escape with a 55-50 overtime victory.

Waynesburg’s head coach Tim Fusina talked about the loss, and the play of the team.

“[Thiel] made some plays at the end of regulation and in overtime and we did not,” Fusina said. “That’s been the story over the last couple of weeks where we struggled, and teams have made plays and we have not… We are struggling right now, there is no question.”

The Tomcats would take an early lead with a 7-2 run, but Waynesburg would then score seven straight points to take a 9-7 lead with 13:31 left in the first half. Senior guard Matt Popeck gave the Yellow Jackets their only lead of the game after scoring on a jump shot from inside of the paint.

Thiel stayed in the driver’s seat during the first half and led by as much as seven points. Waynesburg was able to score late in the half from layups by sophomores Jake Scheidt, and Antone Baker during the last 33 seconds to make the halftime score a 26-23 lead for Thiel.

The Yellow Jackets were able to battle back during the second half despite losing graduate forward Nijon Kirkman to an injury which kept him out for the rest of the game.

Popeck explained what Kirkman has meant to the team.

“Obviously Nijon has been a great player, a great teammate, a great leader for us this entire year, so him going down definitely hit us,” Popeck said. “I remember us huddling up and saying after he went out that we have to try and get the win for him. Sadly, we didn’t have that result…”

Popeck started the scoring with a layup and a three-pointer, and Waynesburg would end up with a 44-43 lead with just six seconds left in regulation before junior guard Ryan Felberg was called for a foul. This put Thiel College sophomore guard Marlon Ellerbee at the free throw line with the opportunity to win the game. Ellerbee would end up only making one of his free throws, and the game would go to overtime tied at 44-44.

Waynesburg trailed for the entire overtime period after both teams traded two-pointers early into the overtime period. Thiel went on a 5-0 run to take a 51-46 lead over the Yellow Jackets. Waynesburg then responded by scoring four straight points to trail 51-50 with 23 seconds left in overtime.

Thiel would end up making four straight free throws to end the game with a 55-50 upset win over Waynesburg. The Tomcats ended the night with three players scoring double digits, while Popeck ended the night leading all scorers with 22 points.

Waynesburg’s offensive struggles have been apparent at times this season, and for Fusina, offense starts with everyone.

“We are struggling on the offensive end,” Fusina said. “It can’t be one person. We approach it that it’s everybody in our program, it’s everybody every day and right now it’s everyone that needs to improve.”

The Yellow Jackets highest scorer other than Popeck was tied between sophomore Jansen Knotts, and the injured Kirkman with six points.

Popeck talked about how he helps lead his teammates.

“It’s important for the other guys to look to score and to stay aggressive and to play confident all the time,” Popeck said. “I’m always telling them to be aggressive and to take their man.”

Waynesburg men’s basketball will finish the 2021-22 PAC regular season this Saturday when the team hosts Geneva College at home for a double header. Tip-off is scheduled for 3pm after the women’s game at 1 p.m.