Men’s hoops comes up short in see-saw battle at Bluffton

Kenneth Stalling Jr. action photo

BLUFFTON, Ohio – Earlham College men's basketball led Bluffton University for a good share of the first half and battled through a see-saw contest for much of the second, before a late surge lifted the Beavers to a 77-68 win over the visiting Quakers, in a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference clash on Wednesday night at the Sommer Center.

Junior guard Kenneth Stalling Jr. led a quartet of Earlham (5-12, 4-6 HCAC) players in double figures with 16 points for his ninth double-digit effort of the season. Stalling charted a 6-of-12 effort from the field with three from beyond the arc.

Senior swingman Darrell Hutchison Jr. logged 14 points – his 13th double-digit outing of the season – on 7-of-16 shooting from the floor. Junior forward Qawi Rucker and junior guard Blake Bonin came off the bench to score 11 and 10 points respectively, accounting for all but two of Earlham's bench points.

Sophomore guard Jamel Barnes dished out eight assists to match his career high set last season at Rose-Hulman. He finished the night with seven points and five rebounds.

After five lead changes and one tie over the first five minutes, Earlham raced out to a nine-point lead, 18-9, at the 10:11 mark of the first half behind buckets from Hutchison and Rucker followed by a 3-pointer from Bonin. The Quakers still led by nine, 22-13, as late as 7:37 in the opening frame, before a 13-3 Bluffton run reeled in Earlham and briefly gave the Beaves the lead.

The Quakers regained the lead on a Barnes trey, and eventually went into the locker room at the intermission with a 33-30 lead over the Beavers following a Stalling 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the half.

Earlham and Bluffton (13-4, 8-3 HCAC) traded the lead seven times and were tied eight over the first 13 minutes of the second half, before the Beavers took the lead for good on a Dezman Brown 3-pointer with 7:01 remaining.

The Beavers extended their lead to six points before the Quakers cut the margin to three, 63-60, after a Bonin 3-pointer with 5:46 showing on the game clock. Bluffton responded a trey of its own by Justis Dowdy followed by a pair of foul shots from Andrew Renner, to go in front 68-60, and the Beavers held a two-possession lead the rest of the way.

Earlham continued its run of strong shooting performances from the field in recent games by going 30-of-64 (.469) against Bluffton – matching its effort in its last outing at Defiance, and shooting 44 percent-or-better from the field for the third straight game.

However, the Quakers were whistled for 14 fouls against the Beavers, sending Bluffton to the free-throw line 18 times where the Beavers converted 16 of those attempts (.889 FT%). Earlham was 2-of-4 at the stripe on six Bluffton fouls – six! – the fewest fouls called on a Quaker opponent since Defiance College committed six fouls versus Earlham in a game on January 21, 2015.

Isaiah Taylor led Bluffton with 24 points and just missed the double-double with nine rebounds to go with six assists. He led four Beavers in double figures.

After back-to-back road games, Earlham men's basketball will return home to face Anderson University on Saturday, Jan. 26, at 3:00 p.m., in the Quakers' first home game since students returned to campus for the spring semester. Earlham women's basketball will battle Anderson at 1:00 p.m. in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader.

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