By John Bombatch
WILBERFORCE — Saturday’s game at Wilberforce University had all the makings of a college basketball festival. But after trailing by as many as 23 points in the first half, visiting Bluefield State (W.Va.) spoiled the Bulldogs’ party with a dramatic 70-67 win at Lewis Arena.
Sorority and fraternity students filled the stands in celebration of Greek Night, and their home team Bulldogs appeared well on their way to a seventh consecutive home victory. But then it seemed as if everything Wilberforce was doing right on the basketball court in one half, they were now having difficulty in continuing that success in the other.
“Defensively, we didn’t get it done, and I’d like to take my hat off to Bluefield State. They kept playing, and found a way to win the ballgame,” Wilberforce coach Terry Futrell said. “We played 20 minutes of solid basketball, then we didn’t show up in the second half. Against good teams, no matter who you are, if you don’t play for a full 40 minutes you’re going to get beat.”
In one stretch, guard Patrick Mitchell went on a 9-0 scoring run on his own to give the Bulldogs a 37-17 lead with 3:47 left in the first half. Then teammates Brandon Murphy and Arthur Haggard III combined to score Wilberforce’s final 10 points of the half to give the ‘dogs a 47-24 lead at the break.
Mitchell’s hot hand continued at the start of the second half, when he stretched the lead to 50-24 with a 3-point jumper from the left wing.
But then someone sealed the Bulldogs’ rim.
Bluefield (6-13) reeled off a 24-0 run which spanned the next eight minutes of the half to pull within two points (50-48) of the stumbling Bulldogs.
The two teams were tied 55-all with 8:49 left to play, but Julian Hernandez’ 3-pointer from the right side put the Blues out in front for good, 69-67, with 30.3 seconds left to play. Hernandez later hit a free throw with 6.7 seconds left for Bluefield State’s final tally.
Wilberforce made two 3-point tries the final six seconds, but both shots hit off the rim. The loss was the Bulldogs’ first on their home court this season.
“Wilberforce sped things up, went with a full-court man-to-man defense, and it got us out of sorts in the first half,” Bluefield State coach Jamal Jackson said. His team played and lost to Cedarville on Thursday night. “We practiced a couple days and appeared lackadaisical, and that’s just how we played that first half. But we know we’re never out of it, because we’re a good team that can fight and we can move the ball. We don’t play selfishly, so we know we can always fight back, but it’s tough.”
Jackson said his team has had to battle back from early deficits in nearly every game. They trailed Cedarville 14-0 on Thursday, and battled back to take a brief lead before falling to the Yellow Jackets, 77-72.
Chas Harvey led the Blues with 18 points scored, while Joshua Windham and Avery Holliday finished with 11 and 10 points respectively.
Mitchell led Wilberforce with a game-high 21-points and nine rebounds, and Haggard finished with 12 points scored in the loss. The Bulldogs begin a three-game road trip Wednesday when they’ll travel to Rochester, Michigan to play Rochester College. They’ll then travel closer to home at 1 p.m. Saturday when they play at University of Cincinnati-Clermont, and then 8 p.m. Monday when they play at Central State.