The red-hot Rams continue their recent tear as they defeated Shippensburg Wednesday night 71-63 and knocked off second place East Stroudsburg 71-65 Saturday afternoon to push its winning streak to six and nine out of its last ten.
West Chester (15-9, 12-8) controlled the game throughout and kept Shippensburg (9-16, 6-13) at bay in the first half. Despite never leading by double-digits in the first half, the Rams never trailed in the contest and the game was tied only once at 2-2 early on. West Chester took an eight point lead into the half with the score being 34-26.
In the second half it was much of the same with the Rams controlling the tempo and the game, but the Raiders managed to cut the lead to just one with less than 11 minutes to play in the contest. West Chester held its ground though and slowly built its lead back up and went on to take the road victory 71-63.
The Golden Rams were led on offense by senior forward Lance McDowell who had team highs in points with 17 and steals with four. Last week, McDowell was named PSAC East Player of the Week for the second time this season after his standout performances against Bloomsburg and Kutztown.
Guards Jon Breeden and Carl Johnson were major contributors as each accounted for 13 points and Johnson led the team with four assists. As a team the Golden Rams shot a solid 49.2% from the field and 41.7% from behind the arc. The struggles for opposing teams from behind the arc continued as the Raiders shot only 4 of 13 from downtown.
Shippensburg was led by Will Royal and Craig Van Scyoc who were the only two Raiders in double figures as they recorded 18 and 16 respectively.
On Saturday, the fourth place Rams welcomed the second place Warriors of East Stroudsburg (16-10, 12-8) to Hollinger Fieldhouse. West Chester took advantage of ESU’s slow start as they raced out to an 18-4 lead over the first eight minutes. East Stroudsburg countered with a run of its own outscoring West Chester 12-6 to pull with eight. West Chester kept the lead there though and led 30-24 at the half.
In the second half, it was the Rams who started slow as ESU closed the lead down to one but just like East Stroudsburg did in the first, West Chester countered with a 7-1 run to push the lead back to eight. ESU chipped away at the Rams lead and had it down to two when West Chester pulled off another run this time 8-0 to lead 61-52 with under four minutes remaining.
The Warriors made one last run trimming the lead to two once again with 16 seconds left but two crucial free throws by guard Jaleel Mack put the game out of reach as West Chester went on to win 71-65.
Mack led the team with 19 points, but it was McDowell who was the difference maker as he scored 17 points and pulled down 18 rebounds including seven offensive rebounds. Johnson added 17 and forward Corey Blake had 10 for the Rams.
Neither team really played well as there were a combined 36 turnovers, 20 of which belonged to the Golden Rams. The Warriors shot an atrocious 1 for 9 from three and missed 15 of its 33 free throw attempts. West Chester never trailed for the second consecutive game.
On Saturday Kutztown defeated the Huskies of Bloomsburg to pull the two teams into a tie for first place in the PSAC East division.
With West Chester’s victory they are now tied for third with ESU, and just one game behind both Kutztown and Bloomsburg with only two games remaining on the schedule. All four teams have locked up playoff spots and no seeds have been determined entering the final week of the season.
West Chester has one home game remaining against PSAC East rival Cheyney Wednesday night, and they will travel to Mansfield Saturday for the season finale. If the Golden Rams can win these last two games, then they put themselves in good position to claim the second seed and host a playoff game if either Kutztown or Bloomsburg loses one of their last two games.
Riley Wallace is a third-year student at West Chester University. He can be reached at RW718681@wcupa.edu.