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Denison closes strong in win over Hiram

Jett Speelman scored 21 points in Denison's 86-77 win over Hiram.
Jett Speelman scored 21 points in Denison's 86-77 win over Hiram.

There's an old saying provincial to Ohio and the Midwest, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change." 

Men's basketball in the North Coast Athletic Conference has been just about as predictable as the Ohio weather in 2016.

After Saturday's loss at the hands of Wabash College, Denison's chances for hosting an NCAC Tournament quarterfinal looked to be all but a distant memory. 

A 15 minute stretch on Wednesday night in two different locations changed the world for DU.  Not only did Denison utilize a 12-0 run to complete a come-from-behind 86-77 win over visiting Hiram, Kenyon pulled off a 67-58 win over Wittenberg in Springfield.  Denison is currently tied with Wittenberg for fourth place in the NCAC standings at 9-8, setting the stage for a dramatic final Saturday of the regular season.

After a back-and-forth first half that saw Hiram take a 41-38 lead into the break, the Terriers came out hot, going on a 7-2 run in the first two minutes of the second half.  Hiram kept a fast pace on the offensive end but the Big Red weren't afraid to get out and run with them.  The two teams combined for 28 fastbreak points. 

With six minutes to play, Denison found themselves trailing 71-64.  That set up the most pivotal two minute stretch of basketball of the season for DU.  Jett Speelman got things going with two straight buckets, cutting the deficit to three.  A turnover by J.J. Woodson via a Devon Pitts strip allowed Darius White to knock down a transition 3-pointer, tying the game at 71-71.

A miss by Hiram at the other end resulted in another transition opportunity for Denison as David Meurer weaved his way through traffic, converting at the rim to give Denison its first lead of the game with 4:41 to play.

A Meurer steal followed by a 3-pointer from the corner left the Terriers spinning in circles.  In a span of just under two minutes, Denison posted a 12-0 run to take a five-point lead.

After a Hiram timeout to try and stop the bleeding, Kelvin Jones scored down low after gathering his own offensive rebound.

Not to be outdone by his former high school teammate, Speelman answered with a 3-pointer off a pass from Matthew Bauer, giving DU a 79-73 lead with 3:28 remaining.

Hiram cut the lead to four after a Woodson layup off a Denison turnover, but Meurer came right back with two-straight buckets in the paint.  His last layup with 1:51 to play gave Denison an 8-point lead.  The win was sealed up after a White miss with 1:09 remaining resulted in an offensive rebound by Pitts and a new shot clock for the Big Red. 

After three White free throws in the final minute, Denison walked off the court an 86-77 winner.  Over the final 6:11 of the game, Denison outscored Hiram 20-6.

Meurer and Speelman combined for 45 of Denison's 86 points.  Meurer scored 24 off a masterful 9-of-11 shooting performance.  He did it all in 24 minutes off the bench while tying for the team lead with four assists.

Speelman was 9-of-18 from the field and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc.  He scored 21 points in 27 minutes.  White followed with 15 points while going 4-of-10 from the field.  He was 4-of-9 from 3-point range, marking the eighth time this season he has made at least four 3-pointers in a game.

Hiram got 19 points from Paul Ortiz while Jones posted a career-high 17 rebounds and 18 points in 36 minutes.  Woodson chipped in 17 points while going 7-of-17 from the field.

The Big Red shot 53 percent from the floor while Hiram shot 50 percent.  The Terriers were just 3-of-18 from 3-point range, while DU connected on 10-of-23 from deep.

With the win, Denison moves to 14-10 overall and 9-8 in the NCAC.  Hiram drops to 17-7 and 11-6 in league play.  The 14 wins are the most regular season victories by a Denison team since the 1997-98 squad won 16 in the regular season.

Tonight's win combined with Wittenberg's loss to Kenyon makes hosting an NCAC Quarterfinal game for the first time since 2005 a possibility.  A win by Denison at Allegheny combined with a loss by Wittenberg at Hiram on Saturday locked up the No. 4 seed for the Big Red.

Denison will travel to Meadville for a 3 p.m. tip-off against the Gators on Saturday, Feb. 20.  The Wittenberg-Hiram matchup is set for a 4 p.m. start.

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