PLAINVIEW, Texas — The Wayland Baptist Pioneers seem to have found their magic number: 17.
For the second time in two weeks, the Pioneers rallied from 17 points behind to post a victory in Hutcherson Center, this time dropping Mid-America Christian University (Okla.) in a Sooner Athletic Conference game Thursday night, 79-74.
“Our guys once again showed a whole lot of resolve, a lot of heart,” WBU coach Matt Garnett said. “They just kept playing, kept competing. I'm real proud they were able to bring it all the way back and find a way to win it.”
The Pioneers (11-6, 2-2 SAC) trailed 49-38 at halftime but outscored MACU 41-25 in the second half. Wayland went down 57-40 not long after intermission before beginning the big comeback, which matched the one the Pioneers recorded in defeating Texas Lutheran University, 70-64, on Dec. 28.
“They were making big shots and playing very well,” Garnett said of MACU (6-5, 1-1). “At 57-40, we were just trying to get (the deficit) under 10. Your hope is you can get them to miss a couple of shots.”
MACU did that, and the Pioneers took full advantage.
Wayland trailed by 16, 65-49, with 12:40 left in the game when the Pioneers – playing without starter Reggie Fondren – really stepped up their play. A 12-1 run cut the deficit to five, 66-61, with 8½ minutes remaining.
“The momentum kind of shifted at that point, and momentum is such a big thing,” Garnett said. ”We knew if we could force them into some tough shots we could reel them back in.”
The Pioneers kept applying pressure and took their first lead of the game, 71-70, on two free throws by Juhreece Thompson with 3:29 to play.
“The guys showed they had the ability to ride the highs and lows,” Garnett said.
The Evangels scored the next three points to regain the lead, 73-71, but Wayland outscored MACU 8-1 over the final three minutes to put the finishing touches on another impressive comeback. A bucket by Theo Hatcher with 1:23 left put Wayland ahead for good at 74-73. Thompson recorded the next three points, then Tanner Hazelbaker sank a pair of free throws with 16 seconds left that the Pioneers on top 79-73 and sealed the improbable victory.