MOUNT VERNON — A three splashed home by Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Brett Vipperman at the buzzer at the end of regulation sent the game into overtime, but the visiting Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats hung tough in overtime to pick up the 99-92 win Tuesday.
IWU’s Canaan Coffey and Trevor Waite both notched a three-pointer in the opening minutes of overtime to give the visitors an 86-80 lead right out of the gates. A layup by Jacob Paul brought the Cougars to within three (88-85) with 3:10 to go, but the Wildcats got defensive stops in the remaining time to seal the win.
“They obviously hit two big ones to really get them going and give them momentum,” MVNU head coach Jared Ronai said of the overtime period. “I felt our guys continued to focus in and try to do some things we were keying on offensively. We didn’t make certain baskets around the rim and that’s OK. That happens sometimes. We’ve just got to continue to improve and get better.”
The Cougars started out red hot, with Jevon Knox knocking down the first shot of the game. After a few shots were traded, MVNU was up 19-8 with just more than seven minutes taken off the clock.
“We were getting stops,” Ronai said. “We were doing a pretty good job defensively, getting to our defensive keys. We were able to get out in transition and open some lanes up. Against a team like IWU, obviously the flow of the game is going to go back and forth. There’s going to be runs in both directions.”
IWU went on a run of their own after finding themselves down double-figures early. They cut the lead to 21-20 with 7:06 to go in the first and then a pair of free throws by Evan Maxwell gave the visitors a 24-23 lead with 5:40 left in the opening stanza. The Wildcats went on to hold a 38-32 lead into the locker room.
The Wildcats returned to the floor and went on an offensive flurry, scoring two buckets in just over a minute, and with 10:21 to go, they were up 65-51. In under three minutes, the Cougars cut the lead to single-digits (67-58) and they continued to chip away, forcing an IWU timeout after scoring another five to put the deficit at 67-63 with 6:46 to go. Another bucket cut the lead to 67-65, but IWU went on a run, pushing ahead 72-65 with 5:11 left on the clock.
MVNU was down 78-71 with 2:11 to go, but a triple by Knox set the score at 78-74 with 57.7 ticks to go. Jeremiah Roberts drilled a three to cut the lead to one with 20 seconds left. Coffey made two shots from the charity stripe to put IWU ahead 80-77 with 14.7 to go. After a Wildcat timeout, the Cougars went up the court and after a missed three-pointer, an offensive board by Knox was dished to Vipperman, who released a shot from behind the arc and heard the buzzer sound before his shot went through the rim, tying the game up and sending it to overtime.
“We feel we’re never out of a basketball game,” Ronai said. “We recruit toughness. We recruit gritty guys. … Our guys know that we are never out of a ball game and they continue to fight all the way to the end.”
Roberts topped the scoring charts for the Cougars with 26 points, which he paired with three boards, five assists, a block and a steal. Vipperman notched 19 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Knox kicked in another 16 points, seven rebounds and an assist. MVNU had five scorers in double-figures, with Paul recording 14 and Jordi Mas tacking on 10. Paul also led the team with nine assists. Austin Jones, with five rebounds, an assist and a block, added the remaining seven points.
IWU’s Maxwell led all scorers on the night with 39 points, finishing the game with a double-double, throwing 13 rebounds on to his stat line. Joel Okafor had 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists, while Coffey had 19 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal. Seth Maxwell had seven points and nine rebounds and Jonathan Mpanzu and Grant Smith combined for 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Waite had the final three points for IWU, along with a rebound and five assists.
Tuesday was MVNU’s first loss of the year, putting them at 8-1 and 1-1 in the Crossroads League. The Cougars, who were voted sixth in the new NAIA rankings released Tuesday, return to action for another league game Saturday at home against Huntington University, with the tipoff at 3 p.m.
“In the Crossroads League, you’ve got to have a short memory,” Ronai said. “You’ve got get up the next day and prepare for another really, really good basketball team. We’re going to put this one behind us, learn from it through film and come back tomorrow and get better.”