The Brescia Bearcats Men's Basketball team earned two hard-fought victories this weekend at the Connor Classic, hosted by Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.
On Friday night, Brescia kicked off the Connor Classic against Rust College. Coming off an exhibition game at Murray State only seventeen hours earlier, BU struggled out of the gate in a battle of the Bearcats (Rust shares the same mascot) and trailed by nine, 42-31, at the half. It was more of the same for the next 12 minutes or so, as Brescia found themselves staring at the wrong end of a 21-point deficit, trailing 72-51 with 7:53 remaining in the game before a jumper from Kyle Wilgus provided the spark that would ignite a rally.
From that point on, Brescia outscored Rust 28-4 to finish the game. Kyle Nixon nailed a 3-pointer with 4:46 remaining to bring the Bearcats to within 9 points of Rust and the defense continued to tighten the screws. Nixon caught fire, making three more 3-point shots over the next four minutes, with the last giving Brescia the lead for good, 77-76, with 32 seconds remaining in the game. After a series of tough defensive plays by the entire squad, Jordan Cooper-Livers iced the victory with two clutch free throws with one second remaining on the clock. The Bearcats had great balance offensively, getting 19 points from Kyle Nixon, 18 from Jordan Cooper-Livers, 12 from Austin Morris (to go along with 11 boards), and 8 apiece for Kyle Wilgus and Trey Howard.
Coach Josh Gibson had this to say regarding the win: "Well, you certainly wouldn't script it this way, but we will definitely take it. You're not going to win many games digging yourself a hole like that, but I could not be prouder of the team for the toughness and togetherness they showed in refusing to give up and finding a way tonight. This was a great win for our team, with lots of different guys contributing in key spots and with our whole team stepping up on defense in the last eight minutes. To hold a team to only two points and without a field goal in the last 7:32 of the game speaks volumes about our heart and what we are capable of doing when we're locked in. We will enjoy it for a few hours, try to get some rest, and be ready to play a tough-minded Thomas More team tomorrow."
Saturday's game was much different, with both teams going back and forth for 40 minutes. The first half was a game of runs, with the Saints of Thomas More jumping out to a 9-2 lead before Brescia answered with an 11-4 run to tie the game at 13-13. Thomas More followed with a 15-7 run to lead 28-20, before the Bearcats rallied with a 12-3 sprint of their own to lead 32-21. The teams traded blows for the rest of the half, with Thomas More leading 39-36 as the first half came to a close.
The second half was a battle featuring eight ties and three lead changes before the Bearcats would take the lead for good on a jump shot from Jordan Cooper-Livers with 3:44 remaining. Brescia would stretch the lead out to five, 67-62, with 1:15 to go on a great attack and finish from Trey Howard, but the Saints refused to go quietly, cutting the lead all the way down to one with 15 seconds left before Jordan Cooper-Livers coolly sank two free throws with 11 seconds left to salt away the win for the second consecutive day. A balanced offensive attack, a hallmark of Coach Gibson's style and approach, again led the Bearcats to victory. Freshman Tavon Johnson recorded a career-best 11 points, joining Kyle Nixon (16), Jordan Cooper-Livers (14), and Austin Morris (10) in double-figures. Trey Howard and Kyle Wilgus posted the same point total for the second day in a row, dropping in 9 points each to support the team.
Coach Gibson commented after the game: "Road wins are not going to be given to you, you have to take them. Thomas More is a much better team than their record would indicate. They play hard and play together, and they make you work for everything on both ends of the court. I am happy with the improvement we showed on the defensive side of the ball today, though again there is still a long journey in front of us if we want to execute at a championship level. The mental fortitude demonstrated by the team, playing their third game in less than 72 hours and all of them on the road, is something that I am very proud of as well. We refused to give in and hung around enough in the first half to give ourselves a chance in the second, which was a back and forth battle. Guys stepped up and made plays at key times and I am pleased with the true team effort we showed today. We will get some much-needed rest tomorrow and get right back after it on Monday."
The Bearcats return to action Monday night at 6:00pm central as they travel to Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. Brescia defeated the Bulldogs 68-49 during their first meeting of the season at The Den on November 11th.