The Bethel College men’s basketball team could’t get Oklahoma Wesleyan out of reach until late in overtime, claiming a 97-91 win Wednesday in KCAC play at Thresher Gym.
Bethel’s biggest lead was eight points with 11:56 to play. The visiting Eagles, who received votes in the NAIA preseason poll, rallied in the final two minutes to tie the game.
"We knew coming in, they are so good," Bethel coach Jayson Artaz said. "They have almost everybody coming back from a team that won the KCAC tournament last year. We’re not going to blow a team like that out. They are going to make enough plays. They’re tough. We knew we had to compete every single play. We fell down early. We did not shoot the ball particularly well. We had to battle our way back.
"One thing that is a concern, when you let a team like that into it, in overtime, you can crumble. We went next play, made some plays right at the start of the overtime and didn’t look back."
Bethel rebounds after a 101-78 loss to the University of Arts and Sciences of Oklahoma on the road.
"We got rolled last week, but that actually was probably the best thing for us," Artaz said. "That was a very humbling experience. We weren’t as good as we thought we were at that point. We came out and had an intense week of practice. One thing we try and pride ourselves and our program on is defense, but we didn’t play a lick of defense. OWU is a very high-scoring team, and we held them to 79 in regulation. You hold a team like that under 80, our guys bought into that."
Bethel was led by the duo of juniors Jaylon Scott and newcomer Bryant Mocaby with 22 points each. Scott added 18 rebounds for his 30th career double-double.
"I don’t know what to say," Scott said. "We played hard in the first half, but didn’t make shots. We continued to play hard in the second half and play together. We’re a tight group. We stick together. We’re better as a group. We have to stay together and play together.
"I did a lot of offensive work (in the offseason). I finally hit it, and it paid off."
"That’s not bad for your second game as a junior," Artaz said of Scott’s milestone. "Jaylon is a special guy as a player and a person. He competes hard. He plays hard. He plays hard in practice. A lot of times, you got someone you have to push in practice. He wants to win everything and wants to compete. I hope people in Newton realize how special he is and come out to watch him. He is going to be one of those once-in-a-generation type players."
Mocaby, a Derby native, transferred to Bethel from NCAA Division I Northern Kentucky University. NKU won the Horizon League the past two seasons and played in the NCAA Tournament two years ago (the tournament was canceled last year).
"There were a bunch of factors that played into (the transfer)," Mocaby said. "I’d like play overseas and this is a winning program. I definitely made the right decision."
Mocaby said the level of play he’s seen in the NAIA has been strong.
"At all levels, there’s a bunch of guys that can hoop," Mocaby said. "You look at Jaylon, just this whole team, we can go. We all came to college to play basketball. There’s a little size gap between Division I and NAIA. The people here can really go."
Mocaby said more of his family can see him play.
"It’s nice to play in front of my full family for the first time in a couple of years," he said. "My mom and dad would drive to NKU. Just to have grandma, my uncle and my parents to support me has been really nice."
Clifford Byrd II scored 21 points. Scott Garriga scored 12 points.
Kaleb Stokes led 1-1 Oklahoma Wesleyan with 33 points, hitting 12 of 21 from the field including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Lense Ramey added 22 points, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers.
Bethel trailed 24-23 with 7:05 left in the first half, but gave up a 10-0 run. Bethel got within five at the half, 42-37.
Bethel opened the second half with a 7-0 run and led by as many as eight. The Eagles drew within one on a Ramey trey with 4:48 remaining.
Scott hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2:03 remaining to put Bethel up by four. Brooks Haddock answered on the other end with two free throws 12 seconds later. Taylen Miller hit 1 of 2 free throws with 45 seconds left to cut the Thresher lead to one.
Scott hit a short jumper with 18.5 seconds remaining. Ramey tied the game with a trey with 10.5 seconds remaining. A Bethel shot at the buzzer fell short.
Stokes opened the overtime with two free throws. Mocaby replied with a trey. Byrd II followed with a three-point play. A steal set up a Scott slam. Scott Garrigan hit a layup after a defensive stop. After a Stokes 3-pointer broke the run, Scott hit two free throws.
Mocaby hit two free throws with 39.2 seconds left in OT to put Bethel up by seven. Stokes kept the Eagles in the game with a layup 14.1 seconds later. Stokes missed a free throw on the play.
"After our first game against USAO, our goal was whenever something went bad, or they went on a run, we had to stick together as a group," Mocaby said. "That’s what we keyed in on this game. We’re going to take all their punches and we’ll be alright."
Bethel plays at 8 p.m. Friday in Kansas City, Mo., against 2-2 Avila, which dropped its conference opener to McPherson 101-71.
"We’ll be ready to compete," Artaz said. "They lost their leading scorer from last year, but replaced him with another good scorer. They’ve given us fits. They played us two close games last year that we had to battle to win (79-78 in overtime and 75-73). Going on the road is a lot different than playing in front of a bunch of great students here."