It had all the elements of America's most popular TV show, Survivor, as Kent State Tuscarawas outplayed, outwitted and outlasted Akron Wayne sweeping the season series for the second consecutive year winning 87-84 on the road in Orrville. Four Golden Eagles scored in double figures who dominated in the paint in the second half after heating things up from distance in the first. The game ended at a frenetic pace as KSU Tusc held on for their fourth win.
The Navy and Gold set the tone early in the first half as they leaped out to a 6-0 lead on triples by Gunnar Tharp and Drew Williams. The first bucket came with 18:29 left in the opening half as both teams struggled with early possessions. When the Warriors drew to within 11-7, the Eagles manufactured an 8-0 run as Tharp canned his second triple in between a short jumper and an offensive stick-back by Jacob Hicks to make it 19-7.
The two teams went back and forth before the Warriors took their first and only lead of the game at 36-35 with 2:10 left, as the Eagles neglected to take care of the basketball. That lead was short-lived however, as the visitors outscored the hosts 8-2 over the last 1:47 to lead 43-38 going into the locker room. That outburst was spurred on by Tharp and Williams treys and a Malik Campbell layup after a late steal and pass ahead by Trevor Donaldson.
The Golden Eagles nailed eight first half three pointers---Tharp drained six of them---and they had five steals that led to 10 fast break points.
The Warriors scored the first two baskets to start the second half, but the Eagles gained control of things with a 7-1 spurt to go up 50-43. Each time Wayne strung together baskets the winners answered. The Golden Eagles outwitted the Wayne defense by not settling for outside jumpers like they did in the first half, as evidenced by Hicks' play as he staved off a rally with two offensive rebounds for easy baskets---one on his own missed free throw---and JaJuantae Young scored six straight points on two strong takes to the rim and a couple of free throws to buoy the Golden Eagles and stretch the lead to 11 (67-56).
On the night the Golden Eagles sank 12 threes (eight in the half one), none was bigger than one by Hicks with 3:41 left to play. As the Warriors crept to within 75-73, the 6' 6" Hicks was so wide open at the three point line he had no choice but to accept the invitation to shoot the ball and promptly sank the 20-foot nine-inch set shot that sparked seven consecutive KSU Tusc points. Williams challenged the Wayne big man at the hoop and made a basket and Hicks added another on a great bounce pass in the lane from Luke Butcher and it was quickly 82-73.
Wayne did not fade however, even after the Golden Eagles took an 86-80 advantage with 59.4 ticks left. They would score two straight baskets on fast breaks off of turnovers, but missed a game tying basket at the rim with just 19.2 left. That errant shot was a byproduct of a defensive challenge by Hicks and Butcher.
Following a timeout to set up their press breaker, the Golden Eagles turned the ball over but came up with a steal with 7.9 left as Campbell jumped on a loose ball and called timeout again. The Eagles inbounded the ball to Williams who avoided a chasing defender to get the ball to Tharp, who was fouled with 1.4 seconds left. He would make the front end of a one-and-one to lift the lead to 87-84.
A quick timeout was called by Wayne after rebounding the missed second free throw with 1.1 to play. The Warriors threw an ensuing three quarter court length pass and the Golden Eagles tried to foul to prevent a three-point basket, but there was no whistle. A Warrior player's desperation heave from in front of the home bench caromed off the front of the rim as the final buzzer sounded, and the Eagles outlasted the hosts keeping the Wagon Wheel trophy at its' New Philadelphia address for the third straight year.
For the game, the Golden Eagles got 25 points by Tharp who led all scorers---making seven triples. He was joined in double figures by Williams with 19, Campbell with 14 and Jacob Hicks with 14.
On Saturday, the Eagles who are now 4-20 on the season host Cincinnati Clermont in their final game of the season with a 1 p.m. tip off.