Mike Rell

Mike Rell of the MU basketball team floats a shot over the defense during their game against eighth ranked West Chester.

The Mansfield University men’s basketball team nearly erased a 17-point first-half deficit behind a career-high 32 points from junior Christian Simmons, but No. 8 West Chester University held on for a 79-71 PSAC East victory on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 11 inside Decker Gymnasium.

Simmons’ career night came on 12-of-20 shooting, adding a 6-of-9 effort from the charity stripe and 2-of-3 from 3-point land. Junior Jon Ward nearly came away with a double-double the hard way, finishing with 11 rebounds, six blocks and six points. Senior Mike Rell returned to the Mountaineer lineup and ran the offense with great efficiency, dishing out a team-high five helpers two go along with nine points and two rebounds. Junior Eli Alvin finished with 13 points.

After trailing by 17 midway through the first half, the Mounties (4-10, 3-6 PSAC) stormed back to cut the deficit to four multiple times in the closing minutes of the period. However, the Golden Rams (14-1, 8-1 PSAC) caught fire once more in the second half and matched their largest lead of the night, 73-56 with 6:18 remaining in regulation.

The Mounties continued to battle against the No. 8 team in the country and closed out the contest on a 9-2 run, which was halted by the final buzzer.

The Mounties shot 50 percent from behind the arch (7-of-14), but the Golden Rams led in points in the paint (40-30) and second chance points (13-6). The Mountaineer second unit has continued to shine over the previous six games and contributed 23 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

In the first half, West Chester opened the contest with 15 unanswered points before Simmons netted a trifecta to end the run. The Golden Rams extended their lead to as much as 17 and held on to a double-digit advantage until the 9:35 mark when another triple by Simmons sparked an 8-0 run to make it 24-19 with 6:49 to go. West Chester built the lead back to eight with 4:32 remaining, but back-to-back Simmons buckets cut the deficit to four with just over three minutes to go. However, that was as close as the Mounties could get, as West Chester carried a 39-32 advantage into the break.

West Chester was led offensively by the nation’s eighth-ranked scorer Robbie Heath, who finished with 20 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals.

The Mounties were back in action on Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 7:30 p.m. when they travel to Kutztown University for a PSAC contest.