With the game on the line, the youth and inexperience of the Wilmington College men's basketball team really showed in their 82-68 non-conference loss to Mount St. Joseph in WC's season opener at Fred Raizk Arena at Hermann Court.
"We weren't consistent in any phase of basketball tonight to win at this level against a really good team. We have to learn to compete one through 17, and we are not there yet," said Wilmington head coach K.C. Hunt. "They out-toughed us, they out-competed us. When it came time to win in the last five, six minutes, they were able to do that and we didn't have another gear."
Down one with 7:18 remaining, Wilmington managed just one basket in being outscored 17-4. It's part of a learning curve for a team that has just two players used to being on the court in the waning moments of critical situations.
"Obviously it's a four-point game with six minutes to go, and we talk about those all the time," said Hunt. "Four-minute, five-minute wars, you have to win those, and unfortunately, we had too many droughts on offense and we didn't make good choices on shot selections and we just didn't any stops when we needed to. When we did get stop, we gave up an offensive rebound. It was a bad combination for us, but it was a learning experience."
It was an uphill battle for the Fightin' Quakers all game long as the Mount built a 15-point lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half.
Senior Ben McGriff (Beavercreek, OH/Beavercreek) bookended a 23-7 run with three-pointers to give Wilmington a one-point advantage. Four different Wilmington players scored during the spurt, but with Hermann Court rocking and rolling, MSJ quickly answered with a three-pointer to take a two-point lead into halftime.
The second half was much like to the first as the Lions quickly built a double-figure lead. But just as quick as MSJ built the lead, Wilmington fought back. Senior R.J. Leppert (Liberty Township, OH/Lakota East) drilled two three-pointers and freshman Jordan Jones had five points as the Fightin' Quakers scored 11 of the next 13 points to pull to within three.
Wilmington eventually pulled to within one, but that was as close as they could get.
Leppert finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-5 from beyond the arc, while tying a career-high eight assists. He added five rebounds and two steals with just one turnover.
"Quite honestly, I am biased, but I think he is one of the best players in the state of Ohio and the country," said Hunt. "I expect him to be our leader all year long, and he was great tonight. But, as a group, we have to be better as a team."
Wilmington (0-1) travels to Cleveland to participate in the Stephanie Jones Tubbs Memorial Tournament, hosted by Case Western Reserve. The Fightin' Quakers kick off the tournament playing SUNY Geneseo 6 p.m. Friday.