By: Sean Neidig, sports information graduate assistant
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Athletic Conference featured three teams sitting at 5-0 in conference play entering Saturday's games before Capital University Men's Basketball hosted the University of Mount Union Purple Raiders in a matchup of two of those 5-0 teams. The Crusaders controlled play at the beginning and end of the first half to pull ahead and maintained that control for the second period as Capital came out on top 71-63 to improve to 6-0 in the OAC and 11-2 overall.
After winning the opening tip, Capital scored on its first possession on a jumper from Joey Weingartner (Centerville, Ohio/Centerville) and the Crusaders built up an 8-2 lead four minutes in. Mount Union's first four points all came at the free throw line until Diallo Niamke converted Mount's first field goal at the 15:32 mark. The two teams traded buckets for the next several minutes until the Purple Raiders took their first lead of the game at 23-21 with 8:55 left to play in the first half. Collen Gurley put Mount ahead but a layup from Caleb Cox (Cincinnati, Ohio/Oak Hills) tied the game before D'Vontay Friga wrestled the lead back for Mount Union and Andrew Francesconi increased Mount's lead to 27-23 with five minutes left in the half.
The Crusaders found their offensive groove rather quickly though with a layup from Cameron Caldwell (Westerville, Ohio/Westerville South) and a 3-pointer from Cox sandwiched around a Mount Union triple. Ganiyu Yahaya (Abuja, Nigeria/Wesley Christian) then made a layup and splashed home two free throws to give Capital a 32-30 advantage. Mount Union tied the game once more before Cox scored again for Capital with two minutes left in the half.
With 1:15 remaining until the break, the Crusaders put an exclamation point on their first-half performance after a missed 3-pointer was slammed home from Yahaya to make the score 36-32. The Crusaders did not trail for the rest of the game and went into the half up 40-35.
Yahaya scored eight first-half points off the bench while Cox led all scorers with 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting. The Crusaders shot 16-of-27 from the floor as a team in the opening half despite the fact that they went 1-of-6 from behind the arc. Capital's offense cooled off in the second half but the team's defense showed up to force Mount Union to shoot only 36.7 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.
The teams went back and forth for the first few minutes of the second half until Mount Union closed the gap to just two points on two separate occasions, at 48-46 and 51-49, but each time the Crusaders responded with big buckets. The gap then hovered between three and nine points for the rest of the contest and Capital's largest lead of the game came with only 24 seconds remaining.
As a team, the Crusaders finished 25-of-51 from the floor for a 49 percent shooting performance and Capital hit 18 free throws to Mount Union's eight. Capital also had a 17-7 advantage in points off of turnovers even though both teams turned the ball over 12 times.
Cox led all scorers with 19 points and added 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the season. Austin Schreck (Erlanger, Ky./Dixie Heights) scored nine points in the second half to finish the game with 15 and also added seven boards.
The win was also Capital's 10th in a row, the team's longest winning streak since the 2008-09 team won 11 consecutive games from Dec. 13-Jan. 29.
Another huge test awaits the Crusaders in their next game as they will take on the only other OAC team that is undefeated in the conference, the No. 8 Marietta College Pioneers (12-1, 6-0 OAC), on Wednesday, Jan. 9 in Marietta. Tip off for the OAC lead is scheduled for 7 p.m.