By Garth Shanklin
The University of Cincinnati – Clermont Cougars men’s basketball team finally tipped off a home game on Friday, Nov. 17 after spending their first four contests away from Batavia.
The team they drew for their home opener? The Penn State Greater Allegheny Nitanny Lions, a team that has not only qualified for the national tournament each of the last two seasons but has made the final four in back-to-back years. The talent of their first home opponent was not lost on UC Clermont head coach Steve Ellis.
“That’s a really, really good team,” Ellis said. “That’s a great coach with a great program.”
The first half between the two teams was a back-and-forth affair. UC Clermont trailed by as much as seven points, but Chase Coomer quickly cut that down to four with a three-pointer. The Cougars trailed 38-35 at halftime.
Penn State Greater Allegheny again strung the lead out to seven points early in the second half, but the Cougars rallied and took the lead thanks to a three-pointer by Jack Engleman that capped off an 11-2 run.
Tied at 64 late in the game, UC Clermont suddenly went on a massive run.
Engleman and Chris Johnson both hit free-throws to put UC Clermont ahead by four.
After the lead was cut down to just one point a t72-71, Ben Sommer hit a three-pointer, then Jamie Carson made back-to-back-to-back foul shots to extend the lead to five. Johnson hit a bucket, Carson a pair of foul shots and Johnson again on a three-pointer to suddenly give UC Clermont an 11 point lead.
Tommy Bingamon hit back-to-back three pointers to push the lead to 16 points, and the Nittany Lions could draw no closer.
Ellis credited one side of the ball in particular for his team’s ability to defeat one of the better teams in the league.
“Defense,” Ellis said. “We were making shots. The second half we were 20 for 22 from the free-throw line, that helped us.”
Engleman led all scorers with 21 points. He also pulled down 12 rebounds. Sommer added 19 points and seven rebounds along with five assists. Carson chipped in 10 points and eight boards, while Bingamon added 14 points, including the clutch three-point shots at the end of the game.
“I’m so happy for him,” Ellis said. “He was able to get a few wide-open looks. Every one of our players this year, we feel can shoot the three. If you get an open look, step up and knock it down, and they did.”
UC Clermont made 10 of their 23 three-point attempts, good for 43.5 percent. The team shot 48.5 percent from the field.
The Cougars did manage to hold the Nittany Lions to 43.8 percent shooting for the game, a number that is down from their shooting performance in the first half of the contests. Penn State Greater Allegheny shot 44.4 percent in the first half.
“The whole second half we switched to a man-to-man instead of a matchup,” Ellis said. “We were able to get some key stops. We had some players we were trying to take away from them.”
The Cougars’ bench made an impact on the game as well. Johnson grabbed five rebounds and added three blocks to go with his 15 points. Coomer added six points for the Cougars, who improved to 3-2 on the season with the win.
The team returns to action on Saturday, Nov. 25 with a 7 p.m. tilt against NAIA school Marion University. The Cougars’ next home contest is on Wednesday, Nov. 29 against Clark State at 6 p.m.