By Pete Chiodo
Forgive those in attendance at Allegheny College’s David V. Wise Center on Wednesday night for thinking the worst when visting Hiram bolted out to a 9-0 lead over the Gators, and continued to pour it on, stretching the advantage to 23-7 nine minutes into the game.
It was hard to be optimistic about the Gators’ chances during that stretch.
However, the Allegheny men’s squad found a way to make a game of it, whittling Hiram’s early advantage all the way down to two points (46-44) with eight minutes to play.
From then on it was a tight contest to the finish. And while Hiram would eventually pull out the victory, beating the Gators 63-59, at least those once forlorn Gator fans got a good show.
So did Hiram head coach Steve Fleming. Although, that’s not what he was looking for.
“Some days I wonder why I do this,” Fleming sighed.
“Allegheny picked up the pressure on us,” he later added. “They made us play faster than we wanted to play and our guys didn’t handle the pressure. And it’s one of those things that feeds off itself. Once they start turning us over, they smell blood, they pick it up even more. And we did not keep our composure. We were lucky to come out of here with a win.”
With the win, Hiram improves to 11-11 overall and 5-8 in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
The Gators, meanwhile, drop their fourth straight and slip to 9-13 on the season and 3-10 in the NCAC.
“Give credit to Hiram. I thought they were the better team (Wednesday),” said Gators head coach Jim Driggs. “We didn’t have a good first 12 minutes of this game. The next 22 minutes, there were some guys that I was very happy with — John O’Donnell, Marco Corona, Bobby Theiss. Kyle Murphy had some plays in the second half. Those guys competed.
“Unfortunately, the last few games we haven’t had a collective committment to competing like we had the first 18 to 19 games this season. We need to be better.”
Hiram’s senior guard Alan Shepperd torched the Gators for 21 points, making five of seven 3-point attempts while shooting 61.6 percent from the floor (8-for-13).
He made several crucial buckets down the stretch, preventing Allegheny from coming all the way back and taking the lead.
For example, with five minutes left, Devone McLeod snatched a Hiram possession away and went the length of the court for a layup, cutting Hiram’s lead to 50-48.
On the way back down the court, Sheppard pulled up and swished a jumper to make it a four-point game again.
Josh Valentic then hit a jumper in the lane on the Gators’ next possession.
But then Sheppard came right back and knocked down a trey, making it 55-50.
Seconds later, McLeod was fouled and knocked down both free throws to make it 55-52.
Both teams scrambled to score over the next minute or so, yet neither could find the bucket. Finally Hiram got the ball back and Sheppard drained another trey to make it 58-52 with 2:50 to play.
That proved to be too steep a hill to climb for Allegheny.
After Sheppard, Aaron Stefanov followed with a 15-point, 14-rebound double-double.
Hiram owned the boards, out-rebounding the Gators 53-31.
For Allegheny, Valentic finished the game with 18 points. Devone McLeod had 17.