Wheeling Jesuit men cruise to victory

WHEELING-Justin Fritts and Joe Prati combined for 57 points while senior guard Ben Siefert recorded an impressive ”triple-double” Saturday afternoon in leading Wheeling Jesuit University’s 92-66 romp over visiting Tiffin University at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.

The victory in their home debut improved the Cardinals record to 2-0 heading into Tuesday night’s West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opener on the road against Glenville. The Dragons, members of the Great Lakes Conference, fell to 1-2.

Fritts’ Ohio’s Mr. Basketball last season when he averaged 27 points a game while playing at Division I Mentor, gave the small but enthusiastic home crowd a picture of things that may come when he drained seven of eight shots from behind arc while exploding for 31 points.

The 6-1 freshman was red hot at the outset of the game, scoring 22 points in the first 14 minutes, hitting six straight trifectas to help Wheeling Jesuit recover from a slow start to lead 41-39 at halftime.

Prati, 6-6 senior from Zanesville, had 20 of his 26 points during the second half, including 10 unanswered tallies as the Cardinals’ went up 78-56 to break the game wide open.

Siefert, another senior vet whose skills in running the offense will be vital if Coach Danny Sancomb’s team is going to make a big run at the conference championship, finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.

”I think Ben is as good as any point guard in our league,” Sancomb said in praising the 6-3 standout from Columbus Bishop Hartley High School.

Wheeling outscored Tiffin 51-27 during the second half after not impressing its coach early in the game. ”We were a little flat in the first half and they jumped on us. ”But I was happy we were ahead at halftime because we did not play particularly well. In the second half we were much better. We executed well offensively and defensively, did a better job on the glass and our energy was much better.”

Tiffin took advantage of the Cardinals early funk and opened up a 19-9 lead behind some hot shooting from junior guard Joe Graessle. The Columbus Bishop Ready graduate scored 19 of his 21 points during the first 20 minutes.

Prati finally woke WJU out its slumber when he just beat the buzzer by burying a hurried three-pointer, cutting the hosts’ deficit to seven. Fritts scored a layup in transition and then drained a triple that made it a 19-17 deficit with 12:56 left in the half.

With Wheeling still trailing 23-17, Fritts again ignited the offense with two long distance swishers around his drive to the basket to put the Cardinals ahead 25-23.

Tiffin’s Mike Boan then tied it for the final time with his two-pointer but Fritts drained another bonus shot from almost downtown to give Wheelng a lead it held for the rest of the half.

”Justin Fritts had it going tonight,” the smiling Sancomb said. ”He is a good kid.”

and he is going to fit very well with us.”

Tiffin held the lead just once early in the second half at 43-41 after Michael Bouley dropped in a pair of free throws and Mike Brown scored on a runner. However, Prati, fouled on his drive to the basket, tied it again by cashing both free throws and Fritts added a lay-in off the fast break.

The Cardinals never trailed again and took their first double-digit advantage at 58-46 near the 10-minute mark on Siefert’s trifecta. Leading 65-52, Wheeling went on a 22-7 run to go up 87-59 with less than three minutes to play.

Prati triggered the surge by firing in 10 straight points on a pair of triples, two free throws and an impressive slam following a steal.

”We need Joe to have a good year,” Sancomb said. ”He has a lot of good skills, passes the ball well and is very athletic. When Joe is open he is a good a shooter as there is. He will knock down the shots on the perimeter and he can score inside for us,” Sancomb added.

Along with scoring 26 points, Prati also pulled down seven rebounds, had two assists and blocked two shots.