BLUFFTON – Greenville 2016 graduate, Aaron Rich led the Bluffton University Beavers to a one point win over the visiting Mount. St. Joseph Lions men’s basketball team 54-53 in a Thursday night home game to extend the teams win streak to six games.
“It was a dogfight down the stretch,” said Bluffton coach Guy Neal. “The good thing was – we won that dogfight down the stretch. I’m proud of our guys for that.”
The Greenville native gave the Beavers a 2-0 lead hitting a layup 43 seconds into the game and hit his second layup of the night to break a 4-4 tie at 15:13 in the first half to give Bluffton a 6-4 lead.
The lead changed hands eight times in the in the opening 10 minutes with the Lions getting their final lead of the night, 11-10 at 10:07 in the first.
Rich scored his third layup of the game to put the Beavers up 23-19 at 3:39 in the fist and would hit his fourth layup of the opening half to give Bluffton a 27-22 lead with 0:19 on the first half clock.
A Rich layup at 19:48 was the first points on the board after the break to give the Beavers a 29-22 advantage and nailed a jumper to give Bluffton its largest lead of the night, 31-22 at 19:12 in second half play.
The Lions cut the Bluffton lead to 35-27 before Rich hit 1-of-2 free throws to push the lead back to 37-27.
With Mount St. Joseph whittling the Beavers’ lead to 43-40, Rich stepped to the line knocking down back-to-back free throws to make it a 45-40 Bluffton advantage at 5:36.
A 3-point goal at 4:04 had the visitors trailing by a point, 48-47 with the teams battling even on the board the final four minutes to give Bluffton its tenth win of the season.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘if you would have told me at lunch today you’re going to win by one point in the last minute of the game,’ I said, ‘I’ll take it’ because I know how precious league wins are, home or away. You always talk about how important it is to steal a couple on the road but you have to defend your home turf too, so that was important tonight.”
Bluffton was led by Greenville’s Aaron Rich who hit for 15 points on 6-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe while pulling down five rebounds and dishing out three assists. The previous Friday night, Rich scored 24 points and pulled down seven rebounds to lead the Beavers to an 83-64 win over Ohio Mid-Western.
“That was a good team win all the way around,” Rich said of his 24 point game. “All of us can score. When one of us gets going we like to keep going to it and if it works it works. We are an unselfish team. We like to do whatever works and try to get a ‘W,’”
Rich takes his defense serious, including quality time in the paint using his 6’5” 205 pound frame to defend opposing team’s big men.
“That is part of my role,” Rich stated. “Coach preaches defense to all of us – that’s what he preaches every day. He’s a defense first and good defense will lead to offense as long as we can sit down in a stance, play good defense, everything will come to us on offense and we did that tonight and it worked for us.”
“Aaron (Rich) and Isaiah (Taylor – 6’4) got some things done down there for us tonight,” Neal said of his big guys. “They did a good job down there.”
Bluffton improves to 10-2 overall and 4-1 in the Heartland Conference.
“We’re doing some really good things – but we are still a work in progress,” concluded Coach Neal. “We still have a lot of ceiling to get to yet, and that’s kind of exciting.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Greenville’s Aaron Rich sinks a free throw for Bluffton University to lead the team in a Heartland Conference win over Mount St. Joseph University. (Gaylen Blosser photo)