There would be no letdown for the Battling Bishops.
Ohio Wesleyan, coming off a big road victory over Wooster — a win that moved the Bishops into a four-way tie for first place in the North Coast Athletic Conference — jumped out to a 31-13 lead with 8 minutes remaining in the first half en route to a seventh straight victory, an 88-61 conference win over visiting Hiram before a gathering of 720 fans Saturday afternoon at Branch Rickey Arena.
Following Saturday’s conference action, only Ohio Wesleyan (16-3, 10-2 NCAC) and Wooster (16-3, 10-2 NCAC), a 75-68 winner over Wabash, remain atop the NCAC standings with 1o-2 records. Wittenberg (15-4, 9-3 NCAC), a 63-60 loser to Denison, and DePauw (14-5, 9-3 NCAC), a 62-60 loser to Oberlin, dropped into second place with 9-3 marks.
After Hiram (5-13, 3-8 NCAC) took an early 2-0 lead over OWU, the NCAA Division III 17th-ranked Bishops answered with a 24-4 run to take an 18-point, 24-6 lead behind the 3-point shooting of senior Taylor Rieger, freshman Seth Clark and junior Nick Felhaber with 10:45 remaining in the opening half. Hiram was never closer than 16 points of the lead the rest of the way.
“After coming off a big win like we got against Wooster, you are always concerned of a letdown in your next game,” OWU head coach Mike DeWitt said. “But we came out and played our best basketball of the season, both offensively and defensively, against Hiram, who took us into overtime at their place earlier this season.”
Ohio Wesleyan, which closed the opening 20 minutes with a 20-4 run led by sophomore Claude Gray, was in command with a 32-point, 49-17 lead heading into the half. Rieger led Ohio Wesleyan’s first-half attack with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting, including 2 of 3 from behind the arc, and 4 assists. Gray contributed 8 points and 7 rebounds.
Ohio Wesleyan dominated the first half statistically, shooting 61.3 percent (19-for-31) from the field, while limiting Hiram to 17 first-half points which shot only 22.9 percent (8-for-35) over the first 20 minutes. The Bishops also claimed a 24-15 edge on the boards.
“We played a solid first-half defense,” DeWitt said, noting that the Terriers came into the game leading the NCAC in scoring with a 74.4 per-game average. The Bishops entered the game tied for second with Wittenberg. “Any time you hold a team to 17 first-half points your defense is getting the job done.”
Ohio Wesleyan would go on to lead by as many as 34 points in the second half, going up 66-32 on freshman guard Jon Grigg’s 3-pointer which capped a 14-6 Bishops run led by Gray’s two baskets and back-t0-back threes by sophomore Matt Jeske and Griggs with 11:09 left in the contest.
With our big lead we had the opportunity to get a lot of players on the floor,” DeWitt said. “I felt we kept our focus and played good basketball with the big lead.”
Fifteen players saw action for OWU, with 11 scoring. Rieger, who was 8-for-12 with three threes from the field, led the Bishops with a game-high 23 points and 5 assists. Gray finished with 12 points and a team-leading 9 rebounds while Jeske came off the bench to hit three treys and finish with 11 points. Seniors Reuel Rogers and Dre White joined freshman Ryan McCrone with 8 points apiece.
With the win, Ohio Wesleyan leads the all-time series with Hiram 43-15.
Ohio Wesleyan returns to action Wednesday, when the Battling Bishops host Wittenberg at 7:30 p.m. at Branch Rickey Arena.