By Nick Wesman and Matthew Amstutz
Facing a must-win situation, the Leafs got a big boost from senior guard Jeremy Pope as they defeated the Huntington Foresters 88-81 Saturday, Feb. 12.
Needing wins to stay in the postseason hunt, Pope led the team with a career high 32 points on 13-21 shooting as the Leafs upset the 19th ranked Foresters in an MCC showdown.
The first half saw much back and forth, as the two teams played through six lead changes and three ties before a run by the Leafs helped them enter the half with a 43-35 lead, with 8-13 three-point shooting and 15-32 shooting overall.
The lead was all the Leafs needed, and they did not relinquish it once after halftime. They continued with accuracy in the second half, managing to shoot 50 percent from the field and stretching the lead to as many as 12 points with eight minutes remaining in the game. Each time the Foresters mounted a comeback, the Leafs answered with big buckets.
Aside from Pope’s 32 points, four other Leafs reached double digits. Sophomore Matthew Martin scored 14, while junior Nate Manning dropped 12 and senior Carl Steen added 10 for the Leafs. Sophomore Kyle Davis scored 10 while pulling down a team-high of eight rebounds and doling out a game-high of nine assists. The Foresters were led by standout guard Kellen Zawadzki, who matched Pope’s big night with 32 points of his own, and Tyler Shively added 20. In the end, the Leafs’ hot shooting proved to be too much to overcome.
Three days later, Goshen College picked up another home conference win against the Taylor University Trojans. The Maple Leafs pulled off a 74-69 victory on senior night that ensured Saturday’s, Feb. 19 game at Marian University will be played for a spot in the MCC tournament.
Pope, playing in his last career home game, continued his fine form by scoring 14 points and classmate Carl Steen tallied nine. Sophomores Casey Pratt and Geoffry Gilot both added 11 of their own. Goshen was especially efficient from the free throw line, shooting 83 percent (23 of 28), an improvement on their season average of 64 percent. The Maple Leafs shot 44 percent overall from the field.
These two victories put the Leafs at 11-17 overall and 4-11 in the MCC, while the Foresters drop to 20-8 (8-6) and the Trojans to 14-14 (4-11). The final game of the Leafs’ regular season comes Saturday, Feb. 19 at Marian University. Taylor, Bethel and Goshen currently sit in a three-way tie for seventh place in the conference. All three teams are competing for the final two spots in the post-season tournament.