OSKALOOSA — The William Penn men's basketball survived an early scare to open Heart of America Athletic Conference play, defeating the Peru State Bobcats 89-86 Tuesday.
Malyk Thomas (Sr., Copperas Cove, Texas, Sports Management) earned the start on Tuesday and earned the right to wear the No. 22 jersey, in honor of the late Marquis Todd, who passed away tragically one day before a Heart Tournament semifinal game against Peru State in 2018. Since Todd's passing, it has become tradition for a member of the team to wear his number when the team squares off against the Bobcats. Thomas, the last remaining teammate of Todd's at William Penn, was given the honors on Tuesday.
Karmari Newman (Sr., Detroit, Mich., Digital Communications) opened the game in the same fashion as he finished out last weekend, drilling back-to-back three-pointers to open up the scoring for the Statesmen. The offense struggled to keep momentum, but a layup from Frederick Jackson (Sr., Killeen, Texas, Interdisciplinary Studies) and a deep three from Malik Edwards (Fr., Drexel Hill, Pa., Business Management) got the Statesmen back on the board, giving William Penn a 15-11 lead.
The Bobcats had an answer, and answered back in a big way with three consecutive triples, taking a 20-15 lead. The Statesmen battled back, bringing the game to within two after a steal and dunk by Thomas. They recaptured the lead off consecutive jumpers from Kevion Blaylock (Sr., Houston, Texas, Information Technology), but Peru State had an answer at every turn. The Bobcats continued to play strong on both ends, carrying momentum with them into halftime, outscoring the Statesmen 12-6 over the last five minutes to enter the break with a 47-41 lead.
William Penn didn't shoot poorly, holding a 48.3% shooting percentage from the field after 20 minutes, but the Bobcats were on fire at 65.5% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc. The Statesmen, however, held a big advantage in free throws, as they went 9-12 from the charity stripe while the Bobcats converted each of their only three attempts.
The Bobcats continued to shoot well after intermission, but the Statesmen did well to remain in the game. Reyhan Cobb (Jr., Atlanta, Ga., Sociology) contributed five points in the early minutes of the second half to bring the deficit to five, but the Bobcats began to pull away again.
Peru State hit four consecutive shots, including two from deep, to go up 65-54. They then extended their lead as far as 16 with only 11 minutes to play, and things began to look bleak for the Statesmen.
The hosts started to chip away, however, with Blaylock making two baskets and Newman sinking two deep shots to cut the deficit back down to five. The visitors answered back once again, though, and quickly doubled their lead back to 10.
After sinking a few free throws, Blaylock brought the Penn Gymnasium crowd back to its feet with a thunderous dunk. Thomas, who had just checked back into the game, then earned a huge steal at the other end, feeding it to Blaylock again for a quick jumper to cut the lead to three.
The defense earned another stop on the other end, and Newman pulled up from deep, looking for the tie. His shot missed the mark, but Cobb was there for the offensive board, and his putback attempt was good to make it a one-point game.
Back on defense, Thomas came up huge again, ripping the ball away before a layup attempt and sending to Blaylock. Blaylock's initial attempt was blocked out of bounds, but he was fouled on his second try, and sank one of two free throws to tie the score at 82.
The Statesmen were called for a shooting foul on the other end, and the Bobcats hit one of the free throws to take the lead back at 83-82. The ball was back in Blaylock's hands, and he took a quick stepback jumper to give the Statesmen the lead at 84-83, their first lead since there was a 1:51 on the clock in the first half.
The Bobcats attempted to regain the lead, challenging Cobb at the rim, but Cobb went up high for the block and grabbed the ball, forcing the jump ball with alternating possession going the way of the Statesmen. The ball went back to Blaylock, who found his same spot along the baseline and hit another beautiful stepback jumper to extend the lead to three, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
After another defensive stop, the Statesmen had time to waste off the clock. Newman, looking for the dagger, pulled up from deep, but the shot was off the mark and the Bobcats earned the rebound. Looking to set up the offense, they fell asleep on the first pass, and Thomas intercepted the ball for yet another steal, giving the Statesmen possession again following a timeout. Newman was fouled after the timeout, and he hit one of his two free throws to make it a four-point game.
The Bobcats stayed alive by hitting a three on the other end. They then fouled Chanze Cruesoe (So., St. Louis, Mo., Business Management) after the ensuing inbounds. Poised as ever, Cruesoe sank both free-throw attempts to make it a three-point game once again with just a handful of seconds remaining. The visitors misfired on a tying trifecta and the rebound was punched to the other end of the court. PSC had one final chance to even the game, but the final try missed wide as the buzzer sounded, and the Statesmen had officially completed the comeback.
Newman led the Statesmen with 27 points, including five triples. Blaylock also added 25 points on the night, including 19 in the second half. He finished just shy of a double-double, also adding nine rebounds. Cruesoe joined the pair in double digits with 10 points on the night in addition to seven assists.
Cobb contributed nine points in the contest, while Edwards finished with seven. Thomas, who was playing inspired defense down the stretch, finished with four steals, including three in the final four minutes.
"Peru State kicked our rear ends for 32 minutes, but the final eight minutes we found enough energy to pull out the win," said Head Coach John Henry.
What's Next: The Statesmen will be back in Penn Gymnasium on Saturday for a non-conference matchup with the Briar Cliff Chargers. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.