SPRING ARBOR, MICH. – A balanced scoring attack helped the No. 3 ranked Bethel College men’s basketball team earn a hard fought 76-74 Crossroads League victory at Spring Arbor University Tuesday night.
The Pilots took the advantage early connecting on two three-point attempts from deep to take a quick 6-0 lead but the Cougars of Spring Arbor responded with a quick 10-2 run to take a 10-8 lead with 15:15 left to play in the first half. The Pilots continued to fight and slowly extended their lead to 16 with 2:09 left in the half but once again the Cougars worked their way back into the ball game and at the half, the Pilots lead was cut to just seven (41-34).
The Pilots headed into halftime shooting 45 percent from the field connecting on 14-of-31 attempts and struggled from behind the arc shooting a season low 23 percent. Paul Forman led the Pilots with 14 points and five rebounds going 4-of-6 from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
At the start of the second half, the Pilots quickly extended their lead to 15 going on an 8-0 run, but the Cougars of Spring Arbor continued to work their way back in the game.
With 2:38 left to play in the game the Pilots lead had been cut down to five after Cougars guard, Caleb Hogans, connected on a couple of free-throw attempts. The Pilots struggled to get anything going offensively during the last few possessions of the game, and with just 44 seconds left to play the Pilots found themselves up only one with the ball. After using up most of the shot clock senior guard Clay Yeo pulled up for a short eight-foot jumper, but fell just short as Spring Arbor rebounded the ball and went the other way. With just 5 seconds left Cougars, forward Thomas Starks attempted a three to try to take the lead, but fell just short as the Pilots secured the ball and eventually the game. Despite scoring just one point in the last four minutes of the game, the Pilots were able to use the aggressiveness defensively to get major stops when it counted.
The Pilots were led by Gage Ott who finished the night with 17 points shooting 80 percent from the field connecting on 8-of-10 attempts. Forman added 16 points for the Pilots finishing the night going 5-of-8 from the field while pulling down eight rebounds. Yeo added 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists, while Caleb Oetjen added 12 and Jordyn Coon added 10.
Yeo’s seven rebounds helped him pass the 500 rebounding milestone as a Bethel Pilot.
Spring Arbor freshman guard Paul Marandet had nine points. The former WCHS standout also had six rebounds and five assists for the Cougars, who fall to 16-11 overall and go to 8-7 in league play.
Bethel, which improved to 24-3 overall and 14-1 in league play with its 13th straight win, clinched at least a share of the Crossroads League regular season title. With one more Bethel win or an Indiana Wesleyan loss in the remaining three games, the Pilots would win the conference title outright. In the event of a tie with IWU at seasons end the Pilots still hold the tie breaker giving them the automatic berth to the NAIA DII National Tournament in Point Lookout, Missouri. This will be the fifth year in a row that the Pilots have made it to the NAIA DII National Tournament.
The Pilots, who have won 14 straight conference games, host Mount Vernon Nazarene University on Saturday at 3 p.m. Spring Arbor plays at Grace College Saturday, also at 3 p.m.