The Wilmington College men's basketball gave the fans in attendance at Fred Raizk Arena in Hermann Court a glimpse of what kind of the team the Ohio Athletic Conference can expect to see for the rest of the season.
While the outcome, a 71-69 loss to rival Marietta, wasn't the outcome desired – you can put the rest of the teams on the Fightin' Quakers schedule on notice.
"From an effort standpoint, I think the light went on from the aspect on how hard you have to compete on every single possession," said Wilmington head coach K.C. Hunt. "We had some stretches this season where we played really good basketball, but it's been in spurts. This is the most sustained effort we've given, and I am proud of our guys."
Trailing by two with possession and just 1:25 remaining in the game, a turnover and intentional foul pretty much sealed Wilmington's fate. Marietta connected on both free throws and hit a layup on the ensuing possession to push its advantage to six with less than a minute remaining. Senior Dwight Johnson (Dayton, OH/Jefferson) connected on back-to-back three's to pull WC to within one, but there wasn't enough time for a final offensive possession.
Additionally, the inability to finish their defensive possessions with a rebound harmed the Fightin' Quakers all night, particularly late. The Pioneers grabbed five offensive rebounds down the stretch, and finished with a 21-12 advantage in second chance points.
"It's something we are going to have to learn how to do," Hunt said of his team's defensive rebounding. "We need guys gang rebounding. A lot of time the other team's point guard isn't crashing, so what is our point guard doing? He needs to get his nose dirty and help us make some plays."
Midway through the first half Wilmington had the game at its tempo, and the Fightin' Quakers were leading by five with eight minutes left in the half. However, Johnson picked up two quick fouls and was relegated to the bench as a spectator. With Wilmington senior leader on the sidelines, the Pioneers made a push.
Once the dust of the first half was settled, Marietta strolled to the locker room with a 10-point lead.
"That was a big play, but it wasn't about personnel," said Hunt. "It was about the fact, for a seven-minute stretch, we didn't compete like we needed to compete, and didn't guard the way we needed to guard. We gave up way too much in transition, and for me, it wasn't a personnel thing. It was a mental breakdown where we got tired and exhausted, and couldn't fight through it."
For a team that has struggled all season coming out of the locker room, it was imperative that things didn't stay status quo.
And luckily, Wilmington came out for the second half breathing fire. Less than four minutes into the second half and it trailed by just two points.
"We specifically talked about at halftime that we have won the first four-minute war of the second half this year," said Hunt. "Thankfully we took that message to heart, and came out there and played well in that first four, five minutes of the second half which set the tone of the half."
There were four lead changes and three ties in the middle portion of the second half, and following a three-pointer by sophomore John Righter (Pataskala, OH/Licking Heights) with 5:17 remaining the game was tied for the final time. However, the aforementioned defensive rebounding woes enabled the Pioneers to escape with a win and remain unbeaten.
Johnson finished with a team-high 14 points, all in the second half, while freshman Christian Jones (Hamilton, OH/Hamilton), in his first career start, added 12. Despite not having a high scoring output, senior R.J. Leppert (Liberty Township, OH/Lakota East) was huge offensively with eight assists and six rebounds.
In his first career start, freshman Roemello Reeves (Dayton, OH/Spring Valley Academy) pulled down a career-high nine rebounds and a career-high three blocks. In a stat that won't show up on the box score, senior Jonathan Bibbs (Dayton, OH/Chaminade-Julienne) drew four charges in the game.
Wilmington (1-5 overall, 0-2 OAC) will take a week off for exam week, and will return to the hardwood 3 p.m. Saturday December 13 at John Carroll.