MARION, Ind. - The HU men’s basketball team gave the NAIA Division II’s 4th-ranked team all they could handle but came up short against the Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats 61-58 Tuesday evening at Luckey Arena.
With this loss, the Foresters (12-13, 3-10) drop their sixth consecutive league contest while IWU completes the series sweep and improves to 22-3 overall, 11-2 in conference play.
In typical Crossroads fashion, it was a game that came down to the wire and featured plenty of star power and gritty defense.
It was a battle of the bigs as IWU’s Patrick Hopkins provided nearly half of his team’s offensive firepower with 26 points to go along with 16 boards. On the other end of the court, Shane Merryman was a pillar for HU as he poured in 23 points on 11-for-15 shooting and collected a team-best seven boards.
HU took advantage of six IWU turnovers scattered throughout the first eight minutes of play to take a 12-5 lead but the Wildcats rattled off the next ten points to edge in front 15-12 with just under eight minutes to go in the half.
The visitors’ next three scores came from behind the arc with Tyler Ault knocking down a pair of long bombs and Ryan Boester burying a third to steal the lead back at 21-20. The Wildcats would reclaim the lead two possessions later before HU closed out the half with an 8-0 run behind six points from Colin Featherston to take a 29-23 lead into intermission.
IWU came out of the locker room with renewed energy, logging 22 points through the first eight minutes, one point shy of their first half total, to take the game’s largest lead of 45-36 by the 11:43 mark.
As has been the case all season, a resilient Forester squad clawed their way back in it. Behind Merryman’s 7 points, HU closed to within one at 50-49 with just over five minutes remaining.
Despite falling behind by as many as six points two minutes later, HU found a way to stay within striking distance. TJ Short took advantage of a Wildcat turnover to pull his team within one at 59-58 with just over a minutes remaining to set up the dramatic finish.
HU got the defensive stop on the other end with a chance to take the lead but Featherston’s runner in the lane rimmed out into the hands of Hopkins with just over 40 ticks remaining.
With less than ten seconds separating the game clock and shot clock, Hopkins topped off his stellar night by muscling his way in the lane for a buzzer-beating layup with seven seconds to go for what proved to be the game’s final score.
The Foresters got the ball into Merryman’s hands for the game-tying shot but his three was off the mark to deny HU the extra period.
Huntington went 22-for-50 (44.0 percent) from the field and shot only slightly better from the charity stripe where they went a disappointing 11-for-20. Meanwhile, the Wildcats finished the game 22-for-45 (48.9 percent) which included five treys and converted 12 of their 19 freebies for 63.2 percent.
Featherston finished with nine points in the losing effort. Short and Alec Peterson each chipped in seven as Merryman was the only Forester to reach double digits.
In addition to Hopkins 26 points, DJ Bettinger tossed in 13 points for the Wildcats.
HU is back on the road again on Saturday to face Mount Vernon Nazarene University at 3:00 p.m.