By Ronald Hanaki
It’s a rivalry when the visiting team’s fans manage to travel well. It gets even more intense when the teams’ cheerleaders start to compete with each other by doing back handsprings and back flips on the basketball court. Such was the raucous atmosphere that greeted both teams inside Koehler Fieldhouse on Wednesday night, February 25. A reported 1,820 people packed into the gym to watch ESU play Kutztown in men’s basketball.
In the regular season finale pitting the top two seeds in the PSAC East, ESU held off Kutztown 81-75 despite a valiant comeback by the Bears that whipped the polarized crowd into a frenzy. With the win, the Warriors (18-9, 16-6) have won the PSAC East title outright for the third year in a row.
ESU seniors Matt Tobin, Whis Grant, Lamont Tillery, and Muhamadou Tillery were honored before the start of the game. ESU’s “Core Four” have compiled a 90-30 record in their four years together.
The Warriors were led by junior guard Jamal Nwaniemeka’s double-double. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds to pace ESU. Grant poured in 19 points, and Tillery and sophomore forward Steve Harris had 11 and 10 points respectively.
Kutztown was powered by senior guard Tynell Johnson’s 33 points. KU sophomore forward Josh Johnson recorded a doubledouble with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Kutztown attempted 63 shots from the field to only 52 for ESU, but ESU knocked down 9 3-pointers.
Moreover, Kutztown got into early foul trouble in the second half which contributed to ESU having 10 more free throw attempts than Kutztown.
The game would read like a Dickensian novel and become a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Warriors led the game 16-15 before they went on a 27-11 run to make the score 43-26.
The Warriors would find themselves with a 49-33 lead at halftime.
Although the Bears tried to make some runs in the second half, the Warriors remained stout and maintained a 16-point lead with 12:59 left in the game.
Kutztown wasn’t done, though. The Bears would slowly claw their way back into the game. In an astounding comeback, KU whittled down ESU’s lead to only three points with 1:47 left to go.
The Bears would hit two more 3-pointers to keep the outcome in doubt. The game would get chippy, but Whis Grant and Jamal Nwaniemeka would ice the game at the free throw line to preserve the win for the Warriors.
ESU has led the PSAC in turnover margin for the third straight year.
The Warriors have their own brand of Nolan Richardson’s “Forty Minutes of Hell.” In the last two years, ESU’s opponents have ranked last in free throw percentage in the PSAC.
ESU will now host the winner of Lock Haven and Millersville in a PSAC Tournament quarterfinal game on Tuesday night, March 3.
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