BY RONALD HANAKI
SC Staff Writer
In what turned out to be a nail-biter, ESU’s men’s basketball team beat the West Chester Rams 74-71 on Senior Night at Koehler Fieldhouse on February 26.
The night was billed as “Whiteout,” and fans were encouraged to wear white in support of ESU’s basketball teams.
Even ESU President Marcia Welsh wore a white shirt in support of the Warriors.
Before the game started, there was a ceremony honoring the lone senior on the team, Zechariah Runkle.
This turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing, as Runkle would make some key plays down the stretch that would ice the game for the Warriors.
ESU’s scoring was powered by the 3-point shot. The Warriors went 12-for-36 from behind the 3-point arc.
In fact, ESU would take more 3-point shots (36) than 2-points field goals (28).
The Warriors were led by redshirt-junior guard Will Brown’s 25 points, including seven 3-point baskets. ESU forwards Lamont Tillery and Rasheed Moore chipped in with 13 points each.
Paced by their hot 3-point shooting, ESU jumped out to an early 14-3 lead.
Even the big man Runkle joined the 3-point shooting party when he hit a top-of-the-key 3-point shot that put ESU up 19-10.
It wasn’t until ESU led 46-34 that the Warriors would begin to miss shots beyond the arc.
The first half would end on a missed 3-pointer by Brown, but ESU would go into the locker room up 46-37 over the Rams.
The Rams brought themselves back into the game in the second half.
A hail mary pass from West Chester forward Matt Wisely to guard Shannon Givens resulted in a Givens layup to make it 57-54 ESU.
On the next possession, Wisely stole the ball from ESU junior guard Whis Grant.
Givens got the ball and was fouled by ESU junior point guard Matt Tobin.
Givens made his two free throws, and ESU now clung to a slim one-point lead. At 57-56, it was now a ball game.
The next two possessions saw ESU’s Brown and Rams junior Ben Mingledough trade 3-point baskets to make the score 60-59 ESU.
West Chester committed its seventh team foul to put ESU into the bonus.
Brown made the first free throw of his one-and-one and then the second to make the score 62-59 ESU, but ESU would be called for goaltending to make it a one-point game again at 62-61.
Then a Wisely put-back off a missed 3-point shot by Givens gave the Rams its first lead of the game at 63-62.
West Chester was up 67-66 when a foul by West Chester senior guard Rasheed Wilkins sent Grant to the line and put the Warriors in the double bonus with 4:03 left in the game. Grant made his two free throws to put the Warriors back in the lead, 68-67.
The Rams kept it a one-point ESU lead at 72-71 on a Givens jumper with 36 seconds to go, but West Chester got no closer as ESU sophomore Jamal Nwaniemeka hit both his free throws off a Rasheed Wilkins foul to make it 74-71.
Givens forced a three-point shot and was short on another three-point shot to end West Chester’s hopes for a comeback win. Nwaniemeka stole the ball off Wisely and dribbled it out to seal the victory for the Warriors.
At 25-1, ESU’s regular season win total set a new school record.
As the top seed of the PSAC East division, ESU received a first-round bye in the playoffs and can have the opportunity to make the road to the PSAC Championship game go through Koehler Fieldhouse here at East Stroudsburg University.
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