WHEELING - For a team searching for a victory, any victory, Wheeling Jesuit coach Danny Sancomb will take Saturday's 89-83 triumph against Notre Dame College at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.
As for the aesthetics of the victory, well, he has seen better.
"We needed to win,'' Sancomb said. "I'm just not happy the way we played in the last five minutes. We didn't play as well as we are capable of playing. We aren't doing the little things we need to do down the stretch."
Wheeling Jesuit’s Tim Goff looks to pass Saturday against Notre Dame.
Photo by Dave Morrison
Indeed, the Cardinals frittered away seemingly sizable 16-point lead (twice) with less than eight minutes remaining.
To that point, they had done exactly what they needed to do, re-establishing what was an 11-point lead that had dipped to five at 56-51 with 12:32 remaining to what seemed like an insurmountable 16-point cushion.
Turns out it was enough, though the Falcons Tyree Gaiter made the Jesuit sweat with three 3s to cut it back to five.
Unlike the close calls gone bad during a five-game losing streak, which was ended by Saturday's victory, Wheeling Jesuit (7-8, 4-7 in the Mountain East Conference) did what it had to do to pull it out.
That includes making 11 of 14 free throws in the final two minutes, including 5 of 6 by freshman Kyle Ritz.
Ritz had a huge game for the Cardinals with 17 points and 19 rebounds.
"It's a huge win, just getting back on the winning train," Ritz said. "It's been tough but we found a way. If nothing else (the losing streak) brought us closer together. We stuck together and more than anything, it's just nice to finish a game on the winning side."
The fruits of victory actually started late in the first half, when Wheeling Jesuit went on a 6-0 run in the final 1:38.
Eric Siefert, he of the bushy beard, had a four points and Tim Goff had a buzzer-beating tip to give the Cards a 45-40 lead.
It picked up in the second half, when the Cards, behind Andre Harris, who had all seven of his rebounds in the second half and finished with a team-high 23 points, ran out to a 55-44 lead.
Goff was big on the run, with six straight points, including a putback and a pair of free throws, to make it 55-44 early in the second half.
Just like that, Notre Dame made it vanish, with a 7-1 run.
This time the Cardinals responded to the pressure.
Goff got it started with a two, Siefert followed with back-to-back 3s, and Magnolia graduate Mark Winters ended it with a deuce to run the lead up to 15.
Gaiter responded with a 3, but then Ritz came up with a play that even pleased Sancomb.
He made a basket and drew a foul. He missed the free throw but hustled to the basket, grabbed the rebound and got the basket.
That made the lead 16.
From there, though precarious at times, Jesuit held on.
Notre Dame coach Tim Koenig had a basic theme after the game.
"We had too many turnovers and we got beat on the boards, and you aren't going to beat a good team when you do that," Koenig said. "There was a stretch there in the second half where they really dominated the boards and when you shoot offensive rebounds, there is no defense for that."
Five players scored in double figures for the Cardinals, led by Harris. Siefert added 21 points, Justin Fritts 12 and Goff 10.
"Kyle Ritz played a great game," Sancomb said. "He was very active on the offensive glass, getting some big baskets, and he also was big on the defensive glass. And Tim Goff was very solid."
"We knew we had to get this win," Siefert said. "Losing what, five games, by five points or less, was hard. We feel like we have a good team here, we just needed to get a win. We had a lot of alumni here, and we wanted to show them we are capable of continuing the tradition of toughness and winning."
Gaiter finished with 30 points, making seven 3s and he added four rebounds, five assists and three steals. Lawrence DeArmond had 23 points and Jarvis Huntley had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
"It was nice to win," Sancomb said. "We kept falling and falling in the Mountain East standings and we have to start climbing back up."