LIMA — In about a three-minute span, the University of Northwestern Ohio Racers went from cruise control to a white-knuckle ride.
But the No. 21 UNOH men’s basketball team held on to beat Aquinas College 67-65 on Saturday in a Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference game at The Garage. The UNOH women also won, beating Aquinas 79-55.
The men’s victory was their eighth straight and put them alone in second place in the WHAC at 12-2 (17-5 overall). No. 7 Cornerstone (17-5, 11-3), which entered the day tied with UNOH for second place, lost to No. 5 Davenport (13-1, 19-3) 77-72 on Saturday. UNOH travels to Cornerstone on Jan. 31 then plays host to Davenport on Feb. 7.
“We’re in a situation where we hold our own destiny,” UNOH men’s coach Chris Adams said. “If we win out, we have the opportunity to win the league outright by the tiebreaker. To enter the last week of January and all of February controlling our own destiny gives the kids a lot to work for.”
It appeared UNOH was headed for an easy win Saturday as it led 63-49 with 4:21 remaining. But Aquinas found a spark and charged back by hitting three 3-pointers and a bucket-and-one to suddenly cut the lead to 66-61 with 1:29 left. Aquinas’ Anthony Williams hit another pair of free throws to cut the lead to 66-63 with 58.6 remaining.
However, UNOH got a stop on Aquinas’ next possession, Ed Jenkins hit a free throw and the Racers had a 67-63 lead with 9.9 remaining. Aquinas scored a final bucket with one second left for the final score.
The Racers got a balanced effort with four players reaching double figures. Lawrence Jackson scored 17 points, Josh Scott had 16 points, Jenkins scored 12 point and dished five assists and Aaron Cross scored 11 points and had four assists.
“We wobbled there at the end,” Adams said. “When LJ (Lawrence Jackson) hit those three baskets in a row (to put UNOH 60-47 with 5:48 left), I thought it got us the separation we were going for. Then we lost our focus. We didn’t rebound defensively very well and they were out-hustling us to all the 50-50 balls.”
Aquinas finished the game with a 15-5 edge in the offensive rebounds and 36-32 overall. One of the reasons Adams attributed to the late-game struggle was a recent injury to starting guard Ziar Anderson, who partially tore his patellar tendon in UNOH’s last game against Lawrence Tech.
“I think we’re trying to find our identity with Ziar Anderson being out,” Adams said. “He brings a lot of rebounding and defense to the lineup and I thought that’s what we didn’t do so well of in the second half.
“But the kids found a way to win. Overall, it was a decent team win against a solid Aquinas club.”
UNOH 79, Aquinas 55
The Racers sprinted out for a 46-16 halftime lead and never looked back in raising their record to 10-12 overall, 8-6 in the WHAC. Aquinas fell to 7-15, 6-8.
In that first half, senior guard Sammi Dervisevic hit three 3-pointers for nine of her 16 points. The Elida product is now just five away 1,000 career points at UNOH. She can reach the milestone at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday when Michigan-Dearborn visits.
“Rewards come to those who put in the work and Sammi has definitely put the time in the gym,” UNOH women’s coach Kyle Menchofer said. “I’m so proud of her to be able to accomplish this this season.
“She’s been in a little bit of a shooting slump but she broke out of that today, and I was really pleased with her overall game.”
Madison Coldren finished with a team-high 17 points and 10 rebounds, Natalie Billing scored 10 points and Porsha Buchanan finished with eight points and six assists.
The Racers outrebounded the Saints 46-21 — 20-8 on the offensive boards — and shot 46 percent from the field (28-for-60) to Aquinas’ 34 percent (17-of-50).
“I challenged them this week about playing with emotion, passion and intensity,” Menchofer said. “It’s the time of the season where it’s the grind, we’re getting to the latter part of the season where it makes or breaks teams. And I was so proud of how we handled the emotional and intensity part of the game because you can’t coach that. That has to come from within.”