Battling a sellout crowd and facing a history night, the Wilmington University men's basketball team won its fourth straight Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference game, defeating Philadelphia, 72-70, on Tuesday night at the Gallagher Center.
The win thwarted Philadelphia (14-6, 8-3 CACC) legendary head coach Herb Magee's quest to become the second collegiate basketball coach to reach 1,000-career victories, as the Wildcats (8-15, 7-7 CACC) kept him stuck at 999 with a second half comeback.
The four-game winning streak is the longest since the Wildcats won four straight to improve to 4-1 to start the 2011-12 season. The win against the Rams is only the second in the last eight meetings overall, and first since the 2012-13 season finale.
Except for a pair of ties in the first four possessions, the Wildcats led for the entire first half, gaining as large as a nine-point lead with 12:13 remaining before the halftime break. The Rams cut the deficit to as few as a single point on multiple occasions but could never get over the hump. Valentino Thompson extended the lead out to four with 2:26 to play before Ta'Vaune Griffin again made it a four-point game with a jumper with 1:43 to play. A runner with four seconds left by Tyaire Ponzo-Meek gave the Wildcats a 32-28 lead heading into the break.
Philadelphia tied the game, 37-37, with 16:44 to play in regulation and took their first lead, 40-39, on a Peter Alexis layup with 14:27 left.
A 16-4 run gave the Rams their largest lead, 53-44, with 10:29 left and again at 55-46 with 9:47 showing on the scoreboard. That's when the Wildcats made their move.
Five straight points by Ponzo-Meek cut the Wildcats' deficit to 55-51 and a Thompson layup finally brought the Wildcats to within a point, 62-61, with 4:14 left in regulation.
Rashaun Rasheed converted an old fashioned three-point play to tie the game, 64-64, before Ponzo-Meek hit a contested three-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead, 67-64, with 2:39 to play.
Ponzo-Meek wasn't done, however, as he hit a monstrous three-pointer over a bigger defender with the shot clock running down to give the Wildcats a two-possession lead, 70-65, with just 43 ticks on the clock.
The Wildcats weren't out of the woods just yet, as the Rams Nick Schlitzer hit all three free-throws after being fouled with 14 seconds to play to cut the deficit to one. After Thompson hit one of two from the line, the Rams set up a perfectly executed play for Schlitzer for the game-winner, but his shot was off the back iron as the Wildcats escaped.
Ponzo-Meek led the Wildcats with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, hitting 4-of-7 from beyond the three-point arc. Thompson added 18 points while hitting 2-of-5 from three-point territory and grabbing six rebounds. Rashaun Rasheed came off the bench with 14 points, shooting 5-of-6 from the field and hitting all four of his free throws. Tyrik Gass grabbed a team high eight rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass.
The Wildcats shot 46.7 percent from the floor, including 14-of-28 in the second half. They shot 4-of-8 from three-point territory in the second half, with all four coming from Ponzo-Meek. The Rams shot 48.1 percent from the floor, including 16-of-30 in the second half.
Magee is looking to join Duke's Mike Krzyzewski as the only collegiate basketball coach to earn 1,000-career victory. Krzyzewski performed the feat on January 25. Magee and the Rams will go for the milestone on Saturday when they host Post.
After a perfect 3-0 road trip, the Wildcats return to the WU Athletics Complex on Saturday for another CACC doubleheader. The men will perform second when they host Dominican at 3 p.m.