Wade Steinlage, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications
LAMONI – The William Penn men’s basketball team had defeated Graceland the past four contests, but WPU had quite the scrap on its hands Saturday night. While WPU never trailed, GU remained within striking distance until the final few minutes. The navy and gold dominated the final five of the game to secure a 95-74 win on the road. The Statesmen are now 6-0 on the year, 3-0 in Heart of America Athletic Conference play.
Brandon Faison (Sr., Charlotte, N.C., Sports Management) missed his first shot of the game a couple seconds in but responded with a good stroke to open the scoring with about a minute gone. The lead went to 4-0 from the first conversion by Kevion Blaylock (Sr., Houston, Texas, Information Technology), but GU soon made their first shot. The first five minutes continued to be a defensive battle as both sides could not hit a rhythm. WPU ran out a six-point lead only to have Graceland carve it back to 11-9.
Q Cager (Sr., Hopkinsville, Ky., Wellness & Recreation) put in a field goal just past the five-minute mark to make it 13-9, but the back and forth nature of the game saw Graceland continue to be within a couple points of the navy and gold.
A few minutes later, Nathan Gehring (Sr., Waukee, Iowa) made a quick jumper that would start WPU off on a 11-5 run that gave the Statesmen a double-digit lead. Up 24-14 with 10-minutes remaining in the first half, it seemed the wind was going to fill the sails and let William Penn pull away. But the team would only make two shots over the next four-plus minutes. Despite that, the defense remained strong as with five minutes to go, GU had only collected five points.
Karmari Newman (Sr., Detroit, Mich., Digital Communication) delivered a three to put the Statesmen up 34-21 as time ticked away, but the home side finished better, outscoring WPU 8-3 to end the half. Up 37-29, the teams went to the break with the game still in the balance.
WPU was 35% from the floor and only made 4-15 three-point shots. They held a slim 24-21 rebound edge at the end of the first 20 minutes and made 5-6 free-throws. Faison led the way with seven points while Blaylock and Gehring each had six. Blaylock had nine rebounds while Chanze Cruesoe (So., St. Louis, Mo., Business Management) had two assists.
The navy and gold came out energized at the start the second half as they rolled out a 6-2 run. Cager snaked in for the first basket of the half before Blaylock threw-in a second-chance opportunity the next time down the court. Now with some momentum, the firepower of this Statesmen team started to skate away from the Yellowjackets. A good dish from Ahmad Pender (Sr., Chicago, Ill., Wellness & Recreation) found Josh Watkins (Sr., Chicago, Ill., Sports Management), who knocked down the three to make the score 51-39.
Graceland was not ready to throw it in though, as they rattled off a 6-2 run. In response, Pender made four points himself over the next couple minutes to stem the tide. Watkins then connected from deep again to right the ship and keep the home side at arm’s length, 55-45.
Both sides battled tenaciously on the defensive side as the gap remained around 10. For every mini run by one side, the other would answer. With 10 minutes to go, WPU led 63-48. Pender would ride his hot hand as he made a couple more shots over the next few minutes. However, the Yellowjackets responded by trimming the lead to 11 at 69-58 with a 10-6 run.
Graceland took a timeout with 6:30 to with the score 73-60 in favor of the navy and gold. Foul trouble began to catch up with GU and the Statesmen were happy to take some free-throws. Once more, the squad put up a short run but the Yellowjackets would negate it with one of their own. With under five to go, WPU led comfortably at 79-65 but they could not put Graceland away.
With four-minutes to go, GU started to ramp up their attack, slicing the lead to 10 at 80-70, forcing WPU into a timeout. The coaches preached the right stuff, as WPU then clicked off a 10-4 run to put the game away. Up 90-74 with 1:26 to go, they would not let the Yellowjackets score the rest of the game, taking the victory 95-74.
Blaylock reaped another double-double with 17 points and 16 boards, both team highs. Cager set a new season-high with 16 points while Pender came up one board shy of the double-double, notching nine boards to go with 15 points. Watkins was 50% from deep and finished with 12 points. Newman had 10 points while Cruesoe had seven assists to pace the line-up. As a team, WPU shot 47% (36-76) from the floor and 29% (7-24) from downtown. They pulled away in the rebound category as the game wore on, winning that battle 45-33. They also had a 12-6 advantage in steals and made the key their home, gaining 48 points in the paint to GU’s 24.
“This wasn’t our best performance as a group but everyone who played contributed,” said Head Coach John Henry. “To be 4-0 in league play and to have not yet played a home league game, it’s an accomplishment.”
Next Up: The Statemen will be glad to play at home again, as they have played their last four away from the friendly confines of Penn Gymnasium. The team will host Peru State on December 2 at 7:30 p.m. in their next contest.