Wilmington College overcame a 13-point deficit in the closing minutes of play to hand Ohio Athletic Conference-leading Capital a 55-53 loss at Fred Raizk Arena Wednesday night.
The Quakers are now 7-4 in the OAC, 9-7 overall. Capital is now tied with John Carroll atop the conference at 8-3; the Crusaders are 11-7 overall.
“Obviously, it was a huge win for us. Capital has played such great basketball of late, and this was a really important win for us to stay in the hunt, if we really have designs on winning the OAC title,” Wilmington head coach K.C. Hunt said.
Defensive play dominated the opening half as Wilmington fell behind, 13-5, with eight minutes to play. The Quakers closed the half with a 13-4 spurt to take an 18-17 lead at the break.
“I thought our defensive energy was excellent, but our offensive execution was poor,” Hunt said. “We had very little movement. We had a bunch of guys just standing around watching each other play one-on-one. That’s not the basketball we need to play to be the best team we can be. Thankfully, we were able to make some corrections at halftime and played much better offense the second half.”
Both teams found offensive rhythm in the second half, but Capital had more as the Crusaders went up, 34-24, at 15:11. The Crusader lead grew to 45-32 with 8:27 to play.
Hunt elected to go “small” with guards Klarke Ransome (Richwood/North Union), Antonio Bowman (Columbus/Whetstone), Brandon Candella (West Chester/Lakota West) and R.J. Leppert (Liberty Township/Lakota East) on the floor with mega-forward Malcolm Heard II (Wilmington). The results were devastating.
Heard was unstoppable in the paint while the guard quartet turned up the energy from baseline to baseline.
“We went with four guards to try to change the tempo of the game. Our guys never gave up. They persevered through missed free throws and missed lay-ups, and anytime we thought we were going to seize the momentum and take the lead, we had one rim out. But the guys just kept defending and rebounding,” Hunt said.
Bowman’s 3-point play capped an 18-5 run that tied the game at 50 with 3:06 remaining.
Capital recovered to take a 53-51 lead with 28 seconds to play, but Ransome found Leppert at the top of the key, and the freshman drilled a trey to give Wilmington a 54-53 lead with 19 seconds remaining.
“R.J. is fearless. He loves the big moment and he loves to make big plays. He is not afraid of any moment. You have to love a guy with confidence like that,” Hunt said.
Candella stole the ball on Capital’s next possession, and hit a free throw to push Wilmington up, 55-53.
The Crusaders were again denied, this time by Bowman, whose steal sealed the deal.
Heard finished with game-highs in points (16) and rebounds (9). Candella contributed 14 points and four steals, and Bowman added 13.
“We asked some guys to play extended minutes tonight,” Hunt said. “We felt we had to keep some of our scoring threats on the floor. You have to give Malcolm, A-B, Brandon, R.J. and Klarke a lot of credit. They played the last 9 minutes of the game, which is something we rarely do. They really stepped up and competed. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”