MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Senior Duo Jordan James ’22 and peek sat ’22 both put in strong performances to lead the Wesleyan men’s basketball team after visiting Husson, 81-61, in an NCAA Tournament first-round game at Silloway Gymnasium on Friday night.
Wesleyan (25-3) won an NCAA Tournament game for only the second time in program history, advancing to the second round where they will face RPI on Saturday. Tipping is due at 7:40 p.m. from the Silloway Gymnasium. RPI (22-5), which leads the nation in scoring (57.5), beat Nichols 78-58 earlier Friday night at Silloway.
The Cardinals, who came in 11th overalland nationally in field goal percentage (49.3), shot over 50% in first (18-34 FG; 52.9%) and second half (15-28 FG; 53.6) %) only to finally pull away midway through the second half. James, who is ranked No. 2 nationally in field goal percentage, only increased his mark for the season as he went 9-for-10 from the floor en route to 18 points and seven rebounds. . Peek tackled the glass himself, picking up a career-high eight offensive rebounds en route to his fifth double-double of the season (15 points, 12 rebounds).
The first half was close throughout as Wesleyan and Husson traded baskets early before DJ Bussey hit a jumper to give the Eagles a 10-9 lead just four minutes. Unfazed by the visitors’ early shots, James connected on a hook shot, followed by back-to-back marks from Peek as the Cardinals responded with a 6-0 run to take a 14-9 lead.
Wesleyan’s lead hovered around five points before a 7-0 surge pushed their lead into double digits to 23-13. Anthony Walker ’22 had scored on back-to-back possessions, the first being a three-pointer followed by a pair of free throws as the senior guard capped the Cardinal mini run.
Gabe Ravetz ’22 connected for a triple that made the Wesleyan 28-16 with 8:48 remaining in the half, but as he did throughout it, Husson’s guard, Judge Kendall, was off through the floor as the main guard responded right away with a deep three to follow Ravetz’s triple and on Eagle’s next possession, Kendall struck again on the drop.
The Cardinal’s biggest lead, backed by the loudest roar from the local faithful, came on the fast break as Preston Maccoux ’23 looked to his right where James was waiting for a thunderous dunk to give Wesleyan a 34-21 advantage. The Cardinals nearly finished the half with a double-digit lead until Kendall struck deep once again, cutting the Wesleyan lead to 42-34 at the break.
North Atlantic Conference champion Husson kept fighting and came within six of the lead twice in the opening 74 seconds of the second half. Needing a spark, Wesleyan got one with points on four straight possessions as Peek and Ravetz traded marks to rebuild Wesleyan’s double-digit lead.
Wesleyan’s decisive run came midway through the second half when the Cardinals launched a 12-1 run that opened up a 22-point lead at 69-47 with 8:34 remaining. Five different Cardinals scored in the +11 push, including a steal of Nicky Johnson ’25 that quickly turned into a two-pointer as the freshman point guard carried up and found Maccoux with a bouncing pass that was dunked home by the junior wing.
That 22-point lead was the biggest of the game for Wesleyan as the strong Cardinals crowd took advantage of the final 8 minutes and counting, encouraging the Cardinals to win the NCAA Tournament.
Other key contributors to the Wesleyan roster include 11 points, including a 3-for-5 of three, to go along with five rebounds and four assists for Ravetz. Walker came off the bench and scored 12 points. Johnson had eight points, seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and just one turnover in 36 minutes. Maccoux added seven points, six rebounds and four assists while Shackylle Dezonie ’23 came out with eight points and six rebounds off the bench.
The Cardinals dominated the rebound, sporting a +21 rebound margin (47-26) including a +10 advantage in the offensive boards over the Eagles. Wesleyan beat Husson 30-10 in quick break points and 22-8 in bench points.
Kendall was dynamic offensively for the Eagles, scoring a game-high 23 points (10-19 FG) with four rebounds and four assists. Bussey added 18 points for the Eagles, which finished their season with a 15-10 record.
Wesleyan is heading to a second-round matchup against RPI with a Sweet 16 spot on the line. It will be the 11and historic meeting between the two teams but the first since. The teams are tied at 5-5 against each other in the all-time series.