The Forester’s men’s basketball team upset the Indiana Wesleyan University Wildcats, 81-69. Junior Shane Merryman led the efforts for Huntington with 28 points.
The Foresters shot 53.8% from the field during the game, besting their season average of 48.1%. Ty Platt, head coach, said that was in part because Merryman was able to take a third of the team’s shots and key players performed.
“Anytime you have Shane Merryman taking a large percentage of your shots, you know you’re taking a high percentage shot,” Platt said. ” I thought TJ (Short) stepped and Collin (Featherston) did as well.”
Short, a junior, and Featherston, a senior, finished with 16 and 12 points, respectively, while going a combined 9-for-17 from the field.
The Foresters, the No. 8 seed in the Crossroads League tournament, took the early 2-0 lead and traded baskets with IWU, the No. 1 seed, until a three-point play gave the Foresters the lead. The Foresters increased the lead to nine, at 25-16, with 8:16 to go.
The Foresters were 4-for-8 from behind the arc to begin the game, and Merryman, the Crossroads League scoring champion, paved the way for Huntington with nine points in the first 13 minutes.
“My teammates put me in a good position to score,” Merryman said. “They had good spacing so I was able to create off the dribble and when they gave me the ball, I was in a position to be successful.”
A pair of treys, from Sophomore Tyler Ault and Merryman, edged the lead to 15 with 5 minutes to go in the first half. Merryman paced all players with 16 first half points.
Meanwhile, IWU’s defensive struggles carried over to the offensive side of the court. IWU slumped to a 10-for-28 from the field during the first half. Crossroads League Most Valuable Player Patrick Hopkins broke out for 10 points in the half, but only one other Wildcat had more than 4 points.
The Foresters went into the halftime break with a comfortable 39-25 lead over the No. 6 team in the NAIA Division II. The lead was pushed to 25 points, and capped out at 26, at the midway point of the final half.
Sophomore Alec Peterson fouled out eight minutes into the second half, relegating him and his rebounding ability to the bench. Peterson had grabbed seven boards before exiting the game, five more than any other Forester at the time. Short picked up the slack in the rebounding department, grabbing five more after Peterson fouled out.
IWU charged back with a 12-0 run to make it 64-51 at the 6:27 mark. George Jones IV led the charge for the Wildcats, scoring six points during the surge. Costly Forester fouls pushed the Wildcats into the bonus and ran sophomore Stephen Jones and senior Collin Featherston into foul trouble.
The Foresters were able to halt the run but any sense of security from their large lead was in question. Sophomore point guard Ryan Boester said that they never know what will happen when playing IWU, so he never really felt comfortable until the end, despite having nearly twice as many points as IWU did as some points.
“It’s basketball, so they’re gonna make runs,” Boester said. “With about a minute left and a 10 point or 12 point lead, that’s when I felt pretty comfortable.”
The Foresters were able to hang on to the slimmed-down lead with free throws at the end, finishing with the 12-point advantage and advancing to the tournament semifinals.
Boester did not start the pivotal game. Boester has been sidelined with an ankle injury for a week and a half, but was projected to be ready for the Foresters by the first round. Boester contributed six points from the bench, and played only 24 minutes. He said that he hadn’t practiced for a week and a half, but should be ready for the next game after resting his ankle another two days.
The Foresters will play next on Saturday against Taylor University, the No. 5 seed that knocked off No. 4 Spring Arbor University, at Taylor at 3 p.m.