The Capital University men’s basketball team (7-4, 5-0 OAC) defeated the Wilmington College Quakers (4-6, 1-3 OAC) 70-68 behind senior forward Spencer Niekamp’s put-back with 3.2 seconds remaining.
For the second game in a row, Capital found a way in the final seconds to score a narrow home win and keep their undefeated conference record in tact. The Quakers had a good look at a 3-pointer on the final possession, but it was just long as the buzzer sounded.
“Ben Jackson was able to get a hand on the ball to keep it moving, and Spencer was in the right place at the right time,” Capital coach Damon Goodwin said. “When you get a lay-up with just under four seconds to go, that’s a pretty fortunate situation. We were fortunate that (Wilmington’s) shot at the end was a little long.”
Niekamp (St. Henry, Ohio), who was recognized prior to the game for reaching the 1,000-point mark for his career on Dec. 8, finished with a game-high 17 points and five rebounds for the Crusaders. Senior guards Tim Congrove (Circleville, Ohio), with 13 points, and Mitch Westerheide (Ft. Loramie, Ohio), with 12 points, also led the Crusader scoring attack.
After a slow start on both sides of the floor in the opening half, Capital was able to build a seven-point lead at the half. Their 37-30 advantage over Wilmington could be attributed to a stellar shooting performance behind the arc as the Crusaders connected on 5-8 3-point attempts.
The Crusaders limited the visiting Quakers to 41.7 percent shooting in the first defensively, but put on a clinic on the offensive side of the ball as they shot 62.5 percent from the floor.
Opening up the second half of action, the Crusaders came out with a purpose connecting on four of their first five shot attempts (3-for-3 from 3-point range) to extend their lead to 13 and force a Wilmington College timeout with 16:52 left in the second.
After a dry spell offensively, the Crusaders allowed the Quakers back into it with 5:25 remaining in the second period as Wilmington College cut CU’s lead down to one at 58-57.
Out of a Crusader timeout, Congrove continued his impressive shooting performance off the bench by connecting on a mid-range jumper to extend the lead back to three.
With 1:27 left, the Quakers had retaken the lead 66-65 forcing Capital into another 30 second timeout. Following the timeout Congrove, again, answered right back on a deep 3-pointer to give the Crusaders a 68-66 edge.
Finally, with 3.2 seconds remaining in the contest and the game tied, Niekamp grabbed an offensive rebound off of a missed Westerheide jumper and laid it back in to put the Quakers away for good.
Despite only shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the second half of action, the Crusaders still found a way to hold on down the stretch on a night where they shot 10-19 from distance (52.6 percent).
Capital is in a familiar place at first place in the league heading into the New Year. Last season, the Crusaders started 5-6 overall before making a second-half run to the share of the OAC regular season title.
Capital has won five straight games heading into the holiday break.
“We talked to our team after the first five or six games this year and obviously we were not where we wanted to be,” Goodwin said. “We approached this stretch as a five-game season where we needed to get things straight, and I think we did get things straight. We need to be a little more efficient offensively, but I think our defense has been real solid for the most part.”
The men’s basketball team returns to action Jan. 3, when they’ll travel to Granville, Ohio, to take on the Denison Big Red for a 7 p.m. tip.