Copyright 2016; Wilmington University. All rights reserved. File photo taken by Frank Stallworth.
BROOKVILLE, N.Y. - - Trailing by 11 early in the second half, the Wilmington University men's basketball team battled all the way back to defeat NYIT, 75-70, in the 2016-17 season opener in the LIU Post Tip-Off Tournament on Saturday afternoon in the Pratt Recreation Center.
The teams were tied, 36-36, at the halftime break, but a quick start to the second half allowed the Bears (0-1) to jump out in front of the Wildcats (1-0). A 7-0 run out the gates and another 8-0 spurt gave the Bears a 49-38 lead with 14:19 left in regulation, their largest lead of the afternoon.
Junior transfer Nick Richards ended the draught with a layup out of a Wilmington timeout, leading to a 7-0 run of their own to get back to within 49-45. Richards then scored back-to-back buckets to cut the deficit to 54-52 before Tyaire Ponzo-Meek tied the game at 54-54 with 8:44 to play. Richards gave the Wildcats their first lead of the second half, 57-56, with a three-pointer with 7:20 showing on the clock.
A Tajee Almon layup and ensuing free-throw put the Wildcats ahead, 63-60, and in the driver's seat for the rest of the game. Dill-Pettiford laid one home before Ponzo-Meek hit a three-pointer to put the Wildcats ahead 68-60 with 4:27 remaining in the game. But the Bears weren't done yet, responding with an 8-0 run of their own to come all the way back and tie the game with 1:20 to play.
Richards hit a free-throw to put the Wildcats back on top and Almon came up with a key steal with 44 seconds left. Ponzo-Meek let the shot clock run down before hitting a jumper with 25 seconds left for the three-point lead. The Bears missed their ensuing three-point attempt and Ponzo-Meek calmly stepped to the line and hit a pair for the 73-68 lead.
The Bears took the quick scoring option to cut it to 73-70, but Ponzo-Meek once again stepped up and hit both free throws to regain a five-point advantage. Richards secured a missed three-pointer to wrap up the 2016-17 season opener for both squads.
The full-court pressure seemed to be the difference for the Wildcats down the stretch, enabling the 11-point comeback in the second half. The Wildcats forced 12 turnovers in the second half, coming up with six of their nine steals after the break.
Richards led the Wildcats in his first game in the Green and White, scoring 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the three-point arc. He also tied Ponzo-Meek with a team high eight rebounds. Ponzo-Meek scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half, adding three assists and three steals as well. Adkins was the final Wildcat in double digits with 12 points.
The Wildcats remain on Long Island for another game tomorrow, squaring off against host LIU Post on Sunday with a 3:00 p.m. opening tip.