The WCU Men’s Basketball team’s playoff hopes were dealt a crushing blow on Saturday as they dropped a key conference game against the East Stroudsburg Warriors 58-53. In a tale of two halves, WCU was almost able to recover from a dreadful first half; however, in the end, their lack of execution on the offensive side of the ball led to their downfall. The Rams were constantly harassed and hounded into poor shots and even worse decision-making. There were some outstanding individual contributions from freshman Kevin Gallagher and sophomore Kehinde Roberts along with some clutch shooting down the stretch from sophomore Kenneth St. George, which could not make up for their atrocious 18-64 shooting from the field.
The Rams started the game with a youth-laden lineup led by two freshmen and three sophomores. Two of their three veterans in junior forward Ralph Hegamin and lone senior Lenwood Greenwood were sidelined by injuries, and Greenwood will miss the rest of the season. The Rams’ inexperience definitely showed throughout the game as they looked confused and generally lost against the constant ESU press.
“I think we lost the game in the first half,” said Head Coach Dick Delaney. “We didn’t follow through on our game plan of running some offense, handling the press better and that got us behind in there.”
The Rams not only struggled with the ESU full-court press, but they also had no answer for arguably the PSAC’s most versatile player in Channon Easley. The bruising 6-foot 8 inch, 230 lb. forward scored 13 points on 6-8 shooting, and also added seven blocks, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Easley and 30 year-old forward Chris Bach abused the Golden Ram frontcourt as Bach added 16 points and a pair of both rebounds and blocks. ESU forward Josh Wentz torched the Rams from beyond the arc, as he hit three of his five attempts from downtown and also added five rebounds and three assists.
Despite only shooting 7-24 in the first half, the Rams were able to always stay in the Warriors’ rear-view mirror and began chipping away at the lead. Gallagher had career highs in points, rebounds and blocks as he scored 13 points on 6-12 shooting, adding 11 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass, and chipped in a pair of blocks.
Roberts also contributed a double-double, as he notched 14 points and 10 rebounds. Roberts shot 5-11 from the field including 2-5 from beyond the arc.
The Golden Rams had an uncharacteristically poor night from the free throw line, making just 55 percent of their attempts on 11-20 shooting.
“[If shooting 20 free throws] we’re usually about hitting 15 or 16 of 20 from the foul line. I mean, those were huge,” said Delaney.
Despite all of their troubles, the Rams were still able to show their mettle and resolve as they clawed their way back within five points and just under a minute left.
St. George, who had been cold all afternoon shooting just 4-16 from the field, was inexplicably left wide open in the corner and hit one of his two threes on the game that finally pumped life into the fans at Hollinger.
However, that’s as close as it would get as ESU’s Aaron Pinckney hit a pair of free throws with just 12 seconds left to seal the deal.
The Rams are seeing their odds of postseason play diminish by the day now, so they will need to pull off a monumental upset of arguably the best team in the conference and WCU’s biggest rival, the Cheyney Wolves.
A trip to Cope Hall nearly a month ago resulted in a 91-72 throttling at the hands of the Wolves, and in order to have any shot at basketball’s second season, the Rams will need to keep Dominique Curry and company in check.
Matt Chandik is a third-year undecided student. He can be reached at MC618553@wcupa.edu.