WILMINGTON, Del. - - Tyaire Ponzo-Meek's three-pointer with 47 seconds left put the Wildcats as they went on defeat crosstown rival Goldey-Beacom, 79-77, in an exhilarating back-and-forth contest in front of a packed house at the Joseph West Jones Center on Saturday night.
Both the Wildcats (19-8, 14-4 CACC) and Lightning (19-6, 13-5 CACC) had already locked up playoff berths for the upcoming Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament, but a home playoff game in the quarterfinal round was at stake Saturday night and both teams played like it.
The electric crowd fed into a fast start for the Lightning as they jumped out to a 9-2 lead and took as large as a 16-8 lead in the first half. Nick Richards and the Wildcats started to take over late in the first half.
Trailing 31-27 with 8:16 to play, the Wildcats outscored the Lightning 18-10 the remainder of the half. Richards put on a display of his own by scoring the final 10 Wildcat points of the half, giving him 20 for the first half alone. He shot 8-for-10 from the floor in the first half, including both of his three-pointers.
Richards remained red hot at the beginning of the second half, bookending a Wildcats' 7-0 spurt to give them their largest lead of the game, 54-45, with 17:20 showing on the clock. The lead remained at nine points after a Richards' layup with 14:49 left, but the Lightning wouldn't go quietly.
Trailing 60-54, the home team went on a 10-0 run with the capper coming from a corner three-pointer in front of the home crowd to put the Lightning up, 64-60, with 7:56 left. Another corner three put the Lightning up 68-62 with 6:42 to play as the Wildcats' offense was in a rut.
Drew Johnson II hit a much needed three-pointer but the Lightning had an answer for each of the Wildcats' next two buckets. Down 72-67, Ponzo-Meek hit a floater before Richards laid one how to bring the visitors to within 72-71. He again brought the Wildcats to within a point with another layup, 74-73, with 2:52 left.
The Wildcats had three opportunities to take the lead but were off the mark on each shot as the clock ticked under a minute to play. After another defensive stop, Ponzo-Meek took it into his own hands, used a high screen and hit the three-pointer from the left key to put the Wildcats ahead, 76-74, with 47 seconds left in regulation.
The Lightning missed a pair of chances at the other end as single free throws from Ponzo-Meek stretched the lead out to 78-74. A quick Lightning score brought them to within a bucket but Masner Beauplan hit the second of two free throws for the three-point lead.
The Wildcats elected to foul the Lightning in the backcourt and put them on the foul line. The Lightning hit their first and attempted to purposefully miss the second and go for the offensive rebound, but a lane violation ended any chance of a last second shot.
Richards finished with a game high 34 points, shooting 14-of-17 from the floor, including all three of his three-pointers. Ponzo-Meek scored 13 of his 20 points in the second half, adding a team-high five assists as well. Johnson hit a pair of three-pointers and scored 11 points, adding five rebounds and three assists. The Wildcats shot 48.3 percent from the floor for the game, but allowed the Lightning to stick around by going just 15-of-25 from the foul line.
The win secured a home playoff game for the first time in the program's NCAA era, which will be played on Saturday, February 25 at 2:00 p.m.
With the win, the Wildcats will now play for their first CACC South Division Regular Season Championship at Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Tip-off against the Rams in the regular season finale will be at 8:00 p.m. in Philadelphia.