No. 8 Foresters topple top-seeded Wildcats
HU advances to Crossroads semifinals at Taylor on Saturday
MARION, Ind. - It was a David and Goliath story of sorts Wednesday night at Luckey Arena as the 8th-seeded Huntington men’s basketball team toppled top-seeded Indiana Wesleyan University 81-69.
For the unranked Foresters (17-14), winning the conference tournament is the only way to make their way back to the national stage after a five-year absence. They are one game closer and will take on 5th-seeded Taylor University at Odle Arena Saturday at 3:00 p.m. in semifinal action of the league tourney.
Indiana Wesleyan (25-6), on the other hand, will likely receive an at-large bid based on their national ranking. With the final poll to be released February 27, the Wildcats, ranked as high as #3 this season, are currently ranked No.6.
HU is undeniably one of the hottest team in the Crossroads League as of late. The Foresters entered the contest having won four of their last five regular season games including wins over then-ranked #14 Bethel and #20 Taylor.
Shooting has proven to be the key to their success. In addition to ranking 12th in NAIA Division II in field goal percentage (47.9%), the Foresters have also made a name for themselves behind the arc where they rank 17th in 3-point field goal percentage at 37.5%.
Wednesday they outshot their ranking. HU finished 30-for-56 (53.6 percent) from the floor which included going 9-for-24 from deep. Leading the charge was Shane Merryman who finished with 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
He set the tone early by muscling his way down low for two points within the first 15 seconds to make sure his team never trailed. The Wildcats pulled even with the Foresters three times during the next two minutes before TJ Short drilled the first of three treys to give the visitors a lasting lead of 9-6.
It was a first half shooting clinic for Platt’s squad as they drained 16 field goals, six of which were long balls, to the tune of 57.1 percent to blow the game wide open. In addition to Merryman’s 16 points, Tyler Ault was a sparkplug off the bench. He finished a perfect 3-for-3 from the field including two from deep to finish the half with eight points.
HU grew the lead to as many as 15 before taking a comfortable 39-25 lead into the locker room.
The Foresters continued their tear through the first ten minutes of the final frame to build a 25-point cushion of 63-38 by the 10:33 mark. To no one’s surprise, the Wildcats weren’t ready to wave the white flag and after a quick timeout, they extended their defense full court to close within 11 at 64-53 with just over five minutes remaining.
Short made sure the lead didn’t dip to single digits by burying a triple on the next possession. While IWU continued to chip away at the lead, they got no closer than ten points the rest of the way as HU cruised to the 12-point victory.
In addition to topping all scorers, Merryman also grabbed five rebounds, dished out four assists and snagged two steals. Short added 16 points and ripped down seven boards to share his team’s rebounding honors with Alec Peterson. Colin Featherston rounded out HU’s double digit scoring with 12.
George Jones came off the bench to pour in a team-high 21 points for IWU. Jordan Weidner tossed in 19 points, Patrick Hopkins logged a double double of 15 points and 14 rebounds and DJ Bettinger finished with 12 points.