BLUFFTON — Bluffton proved a lot last Saturday when it forced overtime in a narrow loss to the top team in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Perhaps just as importantly, the Beavers maintained that elevated level of play Wednesday night, earning a decisive victory over Earlham (2-16, 1-10 HCAC) 85-69 at Bluffton’s Sommer Center. The victory came after the Beavers fell 67-64 in overtime at Rose-Hulman on Saturday. Bluffton’s record improves to 8-10 (4-7 HCAC).
“Our goal on Saturday was to prove that we could play against the best teams in the league,” Bluffton coach Guy Neal said. “When that was over, we stressed that after playing like that with one of the top teams, we couldn’t have a let-down. When a younger team plays really well against a really good team, but comes up short, they have a tendency to kind of stub their toe in the following game. And we didn’t want that to happen to us.”
The story of Wednesday night’s game was Bluffton’s big men. Led by a double-double performance by freshman Thayne Recker (21 points, 11 rebounds), their 3-man rotation of inside players consistently dominated the boards as well as scoring big for the Beavers. Forward Dustin Kinn added 11 points, while Will Pope finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Josh Fisher had a big day from outside, hitting four of five 3-point attempts to finish with 19 points.
“I’ve worked with Dustin and Will all summer and fall,” Recker said. “So it means a lot for us to finally get things going. It really is a team thing for us, and getting this win gives us a lot of confidence going forward.”
There wasn’t a second of the game that Bluffton wasn’t dominating in every aspect. Beginning with a 9-0 run, the Beavers lead got as big as 24-7 in the first 10 minutes of the game. Earlham got a couple small runs throughout the rest of the game, but never shrunk the deficit to any less than eight points.
“Our guys just have to maintain the mentality, energy and communication that they’ve played with in the last couple of weeks,” Neal said. “It’s not that they weren’t working hard and doing what we told them to do before then, but lately they’ve really taken a lot more responsibility on themselves, and I give them a lot of credit for that.”
Earlham also had four men reach double figures, with Dustin Rusk (14 points), Tyler Lewers (12 points), Jack O’Flaherty (11 points), Vadial Jett (10 points) all scoring well while Kristian Barden pulled down 10 rebounds.