HUNTINGTON, Ind. - The Forester men’s basketball team has three wins over top 25 teams but none was bigger than Tuesday night’s 61-59 victory over conference foe Bethel College at Platt Arena.
It was the 14th-ranked Pilots (20-7, 11-4) second loss in as many outings while Huntington collected their second consecutive win to improve to 14-13 overall, 5-10 in league play.
While the opening minute was the only time HU trailed, no lead is safe when facing the nation’s top 3-point shooting team. The Pilots entered the contest shooting 42.0 percent behind the arc to claim the top spot in NAIA Division II 3-point field goal percentage.
But Huntington gave the Pilots a dose of their own medicine, outscoring their visitors 30-15 from deep. Ryan Boester and Stephen Jones each dropped in three long bombs on their way to scoring 13 and 11 points respectively.
Despite being double and triple teamed most of the night, Shane Merryman topped HU with 14 points. He also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds for his third double double of the year. TJ Short added 11 points to round out the Foresters’ balanced scoring.
The first half was a rollercoaster of activity that both teams would just as soon forget. After an uneventful first five minutes of play that saw only seven total points scored, the Foresters gave their fans plenty to cheer about by knocking down four consecutive threes on their way to building a 20-4 advantage by the midway point of the period.
Zach Miller finally brought the Pilots to life when he drained his team’s first field goal of the night at the 9:08 mark. It was sweet revenge for Bethel as Miller’s trey sparked a 20-4 Pilot run to deadlock the score at 24-24 with just over two minutes on the clock. In spite of scoring only two field goals over the final ten minutes of the half, the Foresters managed to hang on to a slim 28-27 halftime lead.
The second half was also a series of runs, just not quite as extreme. Huntington extended their lead to nine at 38-29 within the first two minutes of the final stanza thanks in large part to a pair of treys but once again their offense sputtered allowing the Pilots to climb back into it at 40-39 with just over half the game yet to be played.
Five minutes and four threes later, HU grew the lead to 11 at 58-47 but once again the Pilots found a way to stifle HU’s offense while chipping away at the lead.
Not surprisingly, Bethel went back to their mainstay, knocking down a trio of threes over the final five minutes, to stay within striking distance. With 44 seconds remaining, Jordan Bowerman pulled down his second offensive rebound of the possession and laid it in to pull his team within one at 60-59.
With less than eight seconds separating the game clock and shot clock, the Foresters were looking to take off as much time as possible before putting up a shot but Brandon Gerber mucked up their plan when he tied up the ball with 14 ticks remaining.
The possession arrow gave the ball back to the Pilots. After a quick timeout by the visitors to talk through what many assumed would be the final play of regulation, Bowerman was called for a travel, giving the ball right back to Platt’s squad.
Merryman was fouled on the ensuing inbounds play with 5.6 seconds remaining and calmly sank one of his two free throws for what proved to be the game’s final point as Matt Schauss’ desperation three was off the mark to send the Pilots on their way.
Zach Miller led four Pilots in double digits with a game-high 15 points. Bowerman tossed in 14 while Schauss and Travis Smith finished with 11 and ten points respectively.
The Foresters are back in action on Saturday when they host #RV Taylor University at 3:00 p.m.