Things were tight for awhile, but that all changed in Ohio Wesleyan’s favor in the second half as the Bishops, clinging to a 5-point, 31-26 lead with 16:22 left in the contest, used a big run to pull away and notch an 80-62 North Coast Athletic Conference win over visiting Wabash Wednesday night at Branch Rickey Arena.
After taking the five-point advantage, OWU scored on its next eight possessions to take a 49-32 lead on sophomore post Matt Jeske’s third 3-pointer of the game with 10:50 to play.
Freshman wing Ben Simpson joined Jeske off the bench to help trigger the OWU run. Jeske tallied 11 second-half points, including two threes in the run, while Simpson contributed 4 points on back-to-back layins as the Bishops opened up the 17-point advantage with 10:45 to play.
Senior wing Dre White ignited the Ohio Wesleyan (11-3, 5-2 NCAC) run with a layin at the 15:26 mark of the final half. After freshman forward Seth Clark and senior post Reuel Rogers sank four consecutive free throws, Simpson and Jeske took control with Jeske burying two threes and Simpson converting a pair of layins sandwich around a layup by senior guard Taylor Rieger for the 49-32 lead.
“We had a lot of players contribute off the bench offensively in the second half … that was good to see, and it has been something we have been looking for,” OWU head coach Mike DeWitt said. “And we continued to play good defense in the second half as Wabash continued to compete.”
Wabash (3-10, 2-5 NCAC) continued to nip at the Bishops’ heels, but could pull no closer than 12 of the lead at 49-37 on a layin by sophomore forward Daniel Purvlicis with 8:31 left and 51-39 on a jumper by senior guard Andy Walsh with 7:48 to play.
Ohio Wesleyan, which converted 11 of 12 free throws in the final 5:21 of play, would go on to lead by as many as 23 points, taking an 80-57 lead on a Clark layup with 1:38 to play.
The Bishops and Little Giants battled through the first 16 minutes of play with the Bishops clinging to a 21-20 lead with 4:05 remaining in the first half before taking a 29-20 advantage into the intermission.
OWU, after shooting only 38.5 percent (10-for-26) in the first half, came back out and shot 62.5 percent (15-for-24) in the second half, including 60 percent (6-for-10) from 3-point range, and 78.9 percent (15-for-19) at the foul line.
“Our defense kept us in the game in the first half,” DeWitt said. “We struggled offensively in the first half … we were hurrying our shots and forcing our offense against an active Wabash defense.”
For the game statistically, Ohio Wesleyan shot an even 50 percent (25-for-50) from the field and 75.0 percent (21-for-28) at the foul line while claiming a 36-30 advantage on the boards. Fifteen players saw action for the Bishops with White (20 points), Clark (15), Rogers (11) and Jeske (11) scoring in double figures. A total of nine players broke into the scoring column for OWU. Clark contributed 3 assists and 3 steals. Rogers and Jeske pulled down 7 rebounds apiece with White adding 5 boards.
Wabash shot 40 percent (20-for-50) from the field and 60.9 percent (14-for-23) at the line. Sophomore guard Ross Sponselor led all scorers with 21 points. Freshman guard Kyle Aiton followed with 13 points. Senior forward Pete Nicksic pulled down a team-high 5 rebounds while Aiton handed out 3 assists.
“It was great to see players come off the bench and contribute both offensively and defensively … I was pleased with our performance,” DeWitt said.
Wabash, with a 25-24 edge, leads the all-time series with OWU.