After a seven-day hiatus, the West Chester University men’s basketball team (21-4, 17-4 PSAC East) resumed play on the road as they squared off against East Stroudsburg University (19-6, 15-6), who had dealt them a 60-87 loss inside of Hollinger Field House back in early January.
Although their margin of victory wasn’t as sizable as the first time around, the Warriors did enough to eek out an 88-83 win over the Golden Rams on their home floor, marking only WCU’s second loss in their last 11 contests.
The two teams traded blows throughout the majority of the first half, but then East Stroudsburg began to land huge haymakers that left WCU staggering to the locker room down 12 points at halftime. ESU’s lead was as high as 21 points in the first frame, but West Chester was able to shave nine points off, situating themselves for what they hoped to be a second half rally.
A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act plagued East Stroudsburg in the second half, conduct that was much to the delight of West Chester. After notching their largest lead of 22 points with 16:10 left in the second half, most assumed that this would prove to be insurmountable for WCU and that the Warriors were headed towards the winner’s circle. That premature trekking down victory lane doomed East Stroudsburg as the Golden Rams ratcheted up the intensity and trimmed into the lead, slicing it down to three with 55 seconds remaining.
ESU would go on to ice this one down the stretch with serviceable free throw shooting, which reeks of irony due to the fact that WCU’s frequent trips to the charity stripe in the second half aided them in their nearly successful comeback. West Chester shot an icy 34.7 percent from the floor in the loss, but paraded to the line 38 times, connecting on 26 (68.4 percent).
Malik Jackson, who finished with 17 points and four steals, shot a team-high 14 freebies, while a slew of other players such as Matt Wiseley (eight points, seven rebounds), Jahmahi Slater (14 points, 10 rebounds), and Matt Penecale (12 points, nine rebounds) shot five free-throws. Tyrell Long clanked on both of his attempts from the stripe, but his 15 points and six rebounds were instrumental in WCU digging out of that hole.
The resilient Rams didn’t let their confidence waver due to one loss, and they flexed those hardy muscles in front of their home crowd in a 73-62 win over Mansfield University (5-20, 3-17) on Senior Day. It was a balanced attack for WCU as six players scored in double-figures, led by Jackson’s team-high 15. Wiseley registered a big-time double-double with 14 points and 14 boards, as Penecale, Slater, Mike Wilson and Avery Brown all dropped 10 points.
WCU shot only 38.9 percent from the field, but their defense flummoxed Mansfield as they forced them into 24 turnovers, which the Rams parlayed into 27 points. Defense is something the Golden Rams have honed in on this season thanks to head coach Damian Blair, and Wiseley recognizes it as their engine.
“Coach is big on defense and when we are getting stops we are very successful,” said Wiseley.
West Chester honored their three seniors on the roster, Wiseley, Wilson and Brown, prior to tip-off, expressing gratitude for their contributions to the team during their tenures.
This out coincides with what Wiseley stated about WCU when asked what makes them so dangerous, citing their depth.
“Our depth makes us a tough team to play. We are lucky enough to go 8-10 deep if we need to, and the people coming off the bench can produce just as much as the starters,” said Wiseley.
Riding the high from Senior Day, the Golden Rams notched wins in their next two outings, including a 102-71 shellacking of Cheney University (2-22, 1-20) and a fairly lopsided 81-63 victory over Millersville University (3-21, 3-17.)
WCU’s stomping of Cheney marked their ninth win in their last 10 meetings with the Wolves, and the 102 points scored was their most recorded in a game against CU in the history of the rivalry.
West Chester put things out of reach in the first half, marching into the locker room with a 46-18 lead. WCU shot 55.2 percent from the field for the game, spearheaded by a blistery 61.7 percent in the second half. Long scored a career-high 20 points and snagged down nine boards, with Brown pitching in 20 points and 6 rebounds.
Wiseley added 17 points and nine rebounds, and Jackson scored 14 points on four made three-pointers.
WCU followed that romping with a win over Millersville, a victory of significance as they captured a first-round bye for the PSAC Tournament that will commence at the conclusion of the regular season.
West Chester utilized an 11-2 run in the second half to increase their lead to 14 points, and Millersville was unable to climb back into things, eventually falling behind by 20 in the game’s waning moments.
Wisely was Chairman of the Boards, pulling down 17 rebounds to accompany his team-high 19 points. Jackson dropped 13 points, with Penecale (11 points), Wilson (11 points) and Long (10 points) rounding out the team scoring leaders.
West Chester is slated to take on Kutztown University in a winner-take-all matchup for the PSAC on Wednesday evening, Feb. 24, and when asked about the showdown, Wiseley stated, “We know it will be a big game against a very good team… We will prep for them and bring a lot of energy and focus.”
In the first NCAA Atlantic Region poll released on Saturday, WCU was ranked fourth by the committee. West Chester is the highest ranked PSAC team in the poll, one above archrival Kutztown.
B.J. Boyer is a third-year student. WB806695@wcupa.edu.