The West Chester University menʼs basketball helped themselves clinch a PSAC East playoff berth Saturday afternoon at Hollinger Field House with a thrilling 52-51 victory over division rivalEast Stroudsburg University. Trailing 51-50 with 10 seconds remaining in the game, junior forward Azim Jones came through with what turned out to be the game-winning basket for the Golden Rams (17-9, 7-4). Mansfieldʼs win over Kutztown on Saturday afternoon guaranteed the Golden Rams a spot in the playoffs for the ninth straight season. The Golden Ramsʼ stingy defense caused the Warriors (12-13, 5-5) to turn the ball over with half a minute left in regulation, which allowed the Golden Rams to control the clock on the subsequent drive, holding for the last shot. Jones found a seam in the defense and powered his way into the paint to distribute two of his eight points in the game. The Golden Rams trailed 31-28 at halftime, converting only 9-of-22 field goal attempts in the first half (40.9 percent). The team continued to struggle offensively in the second half (6-19, 30.6 percent).
Despite a poor offensive performance – the lowest score total in a victory all season – the team received contributions late in the game and when it mattered the most.Sophomore Lenwood Greenwood, who led all scorers with 11 points, was injured early in the second half and unable to return. Greenwood ʼs absence allowed players such as Jones and Chad Becker to step up, in addition to starting center Aaron Williams, who saw limited action due to foul trouble. Williams, who is shooting nearly 60 percent from the field this season, finished with nine points before failing out. Williams also added five critical defensive rebounds. Becker finished with five points.
Star point guard Matt Kurtz was held at bay for most of the game, only scoring nine points. Kurtz shot a mere 2-for-5 from the field, and only one three point basket. Kurtz, who came into the game as the Golden Rams leading scorer in points (14.2 pg) and three point baskets (2.2 pg), was mostly unsuccessful in finding open looks.
With both teams failing to score from the field on a consistent basis, the Warriors failed to come through on their foul shot attempts. Warriors forward Channon Easley missed two free throw attempts late in the game, giving more hope for the Golden Rams, who trailed most of the second half. The Warriors shot only 55.6 percent from the line in the game.
When it came time to deliver on the other end, Kurtz, a two-time PSAC East Player of the Week, was successful. Trailing 45-43 late in the game, Kurtz nailed two free throws to tie the game. Kurtz would go on to hit two more free throws later in the half. The Golden Rams were 20-of- 27 from the free throw line in the game, good for 74.1 percent.
The Warriors were able to stay in the game due to a solid rebounding effort. With Williams on the bench most of the second half, the Golden Rams were overmatched in height. Williams, the Golden Ramsʼ season leader in rebounding and shot blocking, was forced to watch on the bench as his team was manhandled 43-26 on the boards.
In the end, the most important statistic of the game was turnovers. The Warriors turned the ball over twice with under two minutes left in regulation, giving the Golden Rams many chances to capitalize. The Warriors handed the ball over 15 times, none bigger than the one that eventually gave the Golden Rams the opportunity to win the game.
Mark Gerhart scored six points and added two assists for the Golden Rams in the winning effort. Danny Hargrove had 10 points to lead all scorers for the Warriors.
Jonesʼs game-winning basket was the culmination of a very productive week of play. Last Wednesday versus Kutztown University, Jones came off the bench to pull down six rebounds and score 11 points. On Feb.12 against Mansfield University, he added nine points in limited action.
The Golden Rams will close out their season on Wednesday night against Bloomsburg University before embarking on their playoff journey. The home game is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.