The Denison men's basketball team kicked off the 2015-16 season with a 78-63 victory over Washington & Jefferson on Wednesday from the Henry Memorial Center in Washington, Pa.
The opening 10 and a half minutes were a back-and-forth battle that saw the lead change six times. With 9:22 remaining in the opening period, junior Matthew Bauer knocked down a jumper in the paint to give DU a 17-16 lead. That bucket sparked an 18-5 run that resulted in the Big Red's largest lead of the half at 33-21. Eight different players scored during the outburst, led by five tallies from senior Darius White. After exchanging buckets, the Presidents' Brian Graytok scored with one second left on the clock to shrink the margin to 35-25 at the intermission.
Graytok's layup to end the first half carried over into the second as Washington & Jefferson scored the eight of the first 10 points of the second period to close the margin to four. Junior Jett Speelman and White provided Denison's answer with a pair of layups and a three-pointer, respectively, to regain a double-digit advantage.
The Presidents were able to close the gap to four once again at 46-42 before a six-point spurt that was capped off by an Andrew Castagnetti triple made it a 10-point game once again. W&J made their final push with just under 10 minutes to play behind three-pointers from Gianni Buarne and Wengly Saintlouis, and a layup by Kodie Hanley. The eight-point surge shrunk the deficit to two with 8:48 to play.
After David Meurer and Graytok traded off scores, the DU lead remained at two with 8:13 on the clock. On Denison's ensuing possession, White drained a triple that sparked a game-clinching 16-4 run that spanned nearly five minutes. Speelman provided nine of the 16 points, including the final five tallies of the run. The Big Red built up a lead as big as 16 before a Meurer layup with 23 seconds to go and a steal by Castagnetti with 12 ticks on the clock set the final score.
Denison shot 44 percent (30-for-68) from the field and an impressive 82 percent (14-for-17) from the free throw line. The Presidents converted over 50 percent from the field (23-of-45), but attempted 23 fewer shots than the Big Red due in large part to their 17 turnovers. DU won the battle on the boards 38-29 and turned W&J's 17 turnovers into 28 points. Denison also converted their 15 offensive boards into 17 tallies.
After netting just four points in the opening half, Speelman went 6-for-13 from the field and a perfect 5-for-5 at the stripe in the second stanza to finish with 21 points. The junior also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and dished out two assists. White ended the night with 16 tallies after going 4-for-5 from the field and 6-for-6 at the foul line, while Meurer had 15 points and seven assists. Devon Pitts grabbed seven boards in 12 minutes off the bench, while Bauer and Sheldon Freeman each had two blocks.
Graytok led Washington & Jefferson with 21 points, six rebounds and seven assists, while Saintlouis added 15 points but countered those with nine turnovers. Brian Lindquist also finished in double digits with 12 points in 34 minutes.
Denison improves to 1-0 on the year, while the Presidents fall to 0-2. The Big Red continues its string of six-consecutive road games on Friday when they travel to Otterbein for the Smokey Ballenger Tournament. Tip-off against the host Cardinals is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.