Ohio Wesleyan advances in NCAA men’s basketball tournament


Staff Report

Senior wing Claude Gray (Avon) scored 6 points and sophomore guard Seth Clark (Lewis Center/Olentangy) added 5 more during a 15-0 run that broke the game open as the 10th-ranked Battling Bishops defeated Pitt-Greensburg 114-68 in a first-round matchup of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament on Friday at Branch Rickey Arena.

The win was the 284th at Ohio Wesleyan for Battling Bishop head coach Mike DeWitt, making him the winningest men’s basketball coach in Ohio Wesleyan history.

In Friday’s first game, Lynchburg assembled a 22-0 first-half run to take the lead and went on to a win 82-55 over Scranton.

Ohio Wesleyan and Lynchburg will play a second-round game at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Branch Rickey Arena. The winner of that game will advance to a sectional semifinal game to be played March 11 on the campus of one of the participating institutions.

Gray buried a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game and junior post Ben Simpson (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forest) followed with a fast-break lay-in off a steal by senior post Matt Jeske (Glen Ellyn, Ill./Glenbard South). Jeske and Gray each hit a pair of free throws before Clark knocked down a 3-pointer for a 12-2 Ohio Wesleyan lead with 17:33 left in the first half.

The Bobcats rallied with 3-pointers by Rocco Contristano, Jerell Figueroa, and Mike Connelly, then got a lay-in and a 3-point play by Connelly to pull within 17-16.

Ohio Wesleyan scored the next 8 points, with Simpson hitting a lay-in and a 3-point play and sophomore wing Will Orr (Johnstown/Johnstown-Monroe) adding a 3-pointer, but Pitt-Greensburg rallied again, closing to within 27-25 with the help of a pair of Kyle Bondi lay-ins and another Contristano 3-pointer.

Pitt-Greensburg was within 42-35 with less than 5 minutes to play in the first half when the Bishops took off on the 15-0 run. Gray drilled a 3-pointer to kick off the scoring spree, and after a Jeske lay-in, Gray pulled up in transition and drained another 3-pointer. Clark followed with a lay-in and a 3-pointer, and senior wing Zak Davis (Newark, N.J./Seton Hall Prep) added a lay-in that increased the Bishop lead to 57-35 with 1:48 to play in the half.

Connelly hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half, bringing the Bobcats within 19 points, but that was as close as the visitors would come.

Clark led the Bishops with 22 points, while Simpson followed with 18 points. Jeske scored 13 points and grabbed a team-high 8 rebounds, Gray also finished with 13 points, and sophomore guard Nate Axelrod (Dublin/Coffman) had 12 points and led the Bishops with 7 assists.

Connelly scored a team-best 20 points for Pitt-Greensburg.

In the opener, Scranton built an early 10-3 lead with the help of Brendan Boken’s 2 baskets, and the Royals held Lynchburg to just one basket over the first 7-plus minutes of the game.

A.J. Hamilton started the Hornets’ 22-0 run with a lay-in, and Zack Burnett followed with a 3-pointer before a pair of Alex Graves free throws tied the game at 10. Graves followed with a lay-in to put Lynchburg ahead to stay, then Burnett added a jumper and Austen Arnold had a pair of lay-ins. Trifectas by Burnett and Hamilton finished off the Hornets’ run, which gave Lynchburg a 25-10 lead with 6:14 left in the half.

Boken scored with 6:03 remaining to end Scranton’s scoring drought of more than 6 minutes, and later converted a 3-point play that brought the Royals within 28-19 with 4:32 remaining. That 9-point margin would be as close as Scranton would come, however, as a Daniel Rowe 3-pointer pushed the Lynchburg lead back into double figures and Arnold added a 3-pointer and a lay-in during the final minutes of the half.

Burnett led Lynchburg with 19 points, and Arnold finished with 17. Boken had a team-high 13 points for Scranton.

OWU Sports Information contributed to this report.