W&J Eyes PAC Tournament Seeding During Regular-Season Homestretch
WASHINGTON, Pa. – Both Washington & Jefferson and Grove City will focus on solidifying seeding in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference basketball tournaments with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season when the programs meet at the Henry Memorial Center on Wednesday night (Women, 6:00 pm; Men, 8:00 pm).
The W&J women (14-7, 9-5 PAC) are currently tied with Waynesburg (10-11, 9-5 PAC) for third place in the league standings; however, as of now, the Presidents own the tiebreaker (W&J and WAY split regular-season series) due to a victory over second-place Saint Vincent (12-2 PAC) on Dec. 5. The Yellow Jackets, who lost to the Bearcats in mid-January, play at Saint Vincent on Feb. 13.
The Presidents won’t finish lower than fourth in the league standings and will clinch a first-round home game by winning its last four games. W&J has not played a home PAC Tournament quarterfinal game since edging Bethany 66-65 in 2010. For a second time, W&J is aiming to help Head Coach Jina DeRubbo (299-133 in 16 collegiate seasons) earn the 300th win of her career.
W&J is looking to bounce back from a 77-53 loss to eighth-ranked Thomas More on Saturday. The Presidents got behind early as the Saints held W&J without a basket for eight minutes and forced six turnovers during a 14-1 run. Sophomore center Valerie Dunlap (Hostetter, Pa./Latrobe) led the Presidents with 12 points and eight rebounds, while senior guard Emily Abraham (Canfield, Ohio/Boardman) knocked down a trio of three-pointers and finished with 11 points.
Abraham is shooting 46 percent (11-24) from three-point range during her past four games and has risen to fifth in the conference and 38th nationally in accuracy from long distance (.381). Abraham, who is also 79th in NCAA Division III in three-pointers per game (2.2), has made at least one triple in all 18 games she has played in this winter.
The Presidents continue to rely on junior forward Chelsea Apke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon), who received two early fouls against Thomas More and only played 29 minutes. She averages a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.5 rebounds (35th in Division III) per game and is fourth in the PAC and 40th in the country in field goal percentage (.506).
Grove City is currently sixth in the PAC women’s standings and a win over the Presidents would force the fourth-straight split in the season series. The teams will meet for the 65th time in history with 40 being won by the Presidents. W&J has won five of the last seven games against the Wolverines at the Henry Memorial Center, including a 74-67 triumph last year. The last six games in the series have been closely competed as the final margin of victory has been eight points or less each time.
The Wolverines have lost five of their last six games, including a 93-62 setback at Saint Vincent on Saturday. SVC shot 56 percent and forced 22 Wolverine turnovers. Leah Gibson, Grove City’s seventh-leading scorer in school history with 1,191 points, netted half of the Bearcats’ points after drilling 5-of-11 three-point goals. Gibson leads the team and ranks 95th nationally with 16.4 points per game. She is also one of the nation’s best free throw shooters (53rd) at 82.6 percent.
Grove City has struggled on the offensive end all season, ranking 375th out of 450 NCAA Division III teams at 51.7 points per game. The Wolverines have been especially off the mark from three-point range with 3.3 makes (333rd in nation) and a 24.7 percentage (369th) beyond the arc.
The men’s game features two teams looking to turn their fortunes around as both have lost four of their last five. The programs are meeting for the 113th time in history (W&J leads 58-54) and the Presidents (8-14, 6-7 PAC) are looking for their first season sweep since the 1993-94 season. W&J had its four-game home win streak over the Wolverines snapped last year when Grove City (7-14, 3-9 PAC) shot 54 percent and rolled to an 87-67 victory.
Last month, W&J topped the Wolverines at the Grove City College Arena 63-50 behind 14 points from sophomore forward Nate Bellhy (McDonald, Pa./Fort Cherry). Sophomore point guard Doug Johnson (Greensburg, Pa./Latrobe) knocked down three treys and finished with 13 points. Starting with that 3-for-5 effort from three-point range, Johnson has made 14 of his last 25 triples. He leads the conference at 52.8 percent (28-of-53) and that percentage would place him second among all NCAA Division III shooters; however, the NCAA minimum for ranking purposes is 2.5 makes per game (Johnson at 1.4).
Senior guard Zach Bellhy (McDonald, Pa./Fort Cherry) has led the Presidents in scoring 12 times this winter and is the 43rd-leading scorer in all of Division III basketball at 19.0 points per game. Last week, he moved into seventh place on the W&J career scoring list, passing Danny Jones ’90 and W&J Hall of Famer Terry Wilkins ’94. With 1,419 points, Bellhy could move into fifth place this week as W&J Hall of Famer Cy Godfrey ’55 (1,438) and Brandon Studer ’07 (1,439) loom next.
Bellhy is also 83 points away from passing Wilkins for the most points scored by a President during his senior season. Wilkins amassed 500 during the 1993-94 season in which W&J advanced to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight. W&J is guaranteed at least four more games with three regular-season contests and at least one PAC Tournament game. He would also become the first President in school history to amass a pair of 500-plus scoring seasons.
All nine teams play in the PAC Tournament and Grove City is currently seventh, one game ahead of Westminster and Geneva. The Wolverines are hoping to avoid playing in the 8-9 first round game with both teams left on their schedule.
On Saturday, Grove City nearly knocked off PAC co-leader Saint Vincent in Latrobe before eventually falling 64-60. The Wolverines led 30-26 at halftime and received 22 points from J.T. Schwartz, who buried 4-of-5 three-point attempts. He was the only Wolverine in double figures. GCC has struggled on the offensive end all season, ranking 370th out of 407 NCAA teams in free throw percentage (.618) and 362nd in scoring (62.5 ppg). Mitch Marmelstein (13.9 ppg) and Schwartz (11.7 ppg) both score in double figures.