Sullivan helps Witt pull off close victory

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SPRINGFIELD — The Wittenberg men’s basketball team can thank Delta Airlines, in part, for its 64-62 victory over Ohio Wesleyan on Monday.

Delta delivered Chris Sullivan, just hours after his grandfather’s funeral in Brooklyn, N.Y., from LaGuardia Airport to Columbus — not without a little airline drama, of course.

“It said it was delayed 20 minutes,” said Sullivan, a senior guard who ranks second on the team in scoring. “Then it was another 15 and another 15. They just kept adding on. I was like, ‘Just get me on this plane.’ ”

Sullivan landed in Columbus at 4:45 p.m. and then hustled to Pam Evans Smith Arena for the team’s home opener. He arrived about an hour before the 7:30 p.m. start. In the first half, he said he played as if he were still on the plane. If not for a lucky roll on a 3-pointer at the end of the half, he would have been held scoreless. He made 1-of-6 shots in the first half, and the Tigers trailed by as many as 11.

In the second half, Sullivan and the Tigers found their rhythm. Sullivan hit 4-of-5 3-pointers, including three in a three-minute span as the Tigers turned a four-point deficit into a five-point lead with 4 minutes, 10 seconds to play.

Sullivan thought his late grandfather Alfred Whelehan, a U.S. Navy veteran who earned a purple heart in World War II and died Thursday at 84, had a little to do with his second-half success.

“He might have helped me out with one or two of those shots,” Sullivan said.

Clayton Black also had his say in the victory. The junior post scored 25 points for the second straight game, making 7-of-9 shots from the field and all 11 of his free-throw attempts.

Freshman Steven Newell had some big moments as well, scoring eight points, including two clutch free throws with eight seconds left to give Wittenberg a four-point lead.

And Michael Cooper, in his first game back since football season, had a team-best five assists to go with five rebounds.

“I’ve been waiting for a while,” Cooper said. “I’ve been anxious to get back out there and start playing for real.”

The team needed all those contributions as it continues to play without starter Josh McKee, who is sidelined indefinitely with pneumonia.

“Clayton and Chris and Steven were really big for us,” Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said. “And, no question, Coop gave us some type of spark or edge.”

The victory means the Tigers will take a 3-0 North Coast Athletic Conference record into January. They are 4-3 overall after a 1-3 start.

“There’s 10 teams in the league, and there’s only three undefeated as we head into the new year,” Wittenberg coach Bill Brown said. “We’re one of those three. I’m really proud of the guys.”

Wittenberg won despite 23 turnovers. It made up for that with a 35-28 rebounding edge and by hitting 17-of-20 free throws.

Andy Winters and Tim Brady led Ohio Wesleyan (4-7, 1-3 NCAC) with 16 points each.

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