UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College men's basketball team used a 17-2 run in a span of 3:45 midway through the second half to rally for an 86-81 victory over visiting Houghton College on senior night at the Clark Athletic Center Friday. Senior Matt Baldwin (Gloversville, NY/Gloversville) connected on 4-of-9 3-pointers and scored a season-high 26 points in his final home contest as a Pioneer, while junior Connor Maisch (Kingston, NY/John A. Coleman) added 23 points, eight rebounds and four steals to pace the home team to its third win in four tries.
Utica (10-13, 6-6 Empire 8) currently sits in fifth place in the conference behind Nazareth (6-5) and St. John Fisher (7-4). Houghton's 23 game losing streak continues as they have yet to win a contest this season.
Junior Chris Jeffers (Albany, NY/Bishop Maginn) scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season and he is now averaging 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest for the Pioneers. Sophomore guard Aaron Nevins (Buffalo, NY/Canisius) netted 11 points, while Alex Meyer (Salt Point, NY/Our Lady of Lourdes) and Marion Lewis (Bronx, NY/Lehman) combined for 10 points for UC. Senior Jeff Ward (Ossining, NY/Ossining High School) added four blocks on the defensive end for the Pioneers.
Mark O'Brien netted a game-high 34 points for the visitors and Chris Confair chipped in with 20 points, to account for the majority of the Highlanders' 81 points.
The visitors opened up a 12-6 lead in the first 3:54 of the game behind six points from O'Brien and three each from Confair and Michael Ball. The Pioneers responded on a 15-8 run in the next 6:18 of the contest to steal the lead back, 21-20, with 9:34 left in the first half of play. UC pushed its lead to as many as six points, 38-32, with 2:29 left in the first half before the Highlanders closed out the first half on an 11-6 run in a span of 3:06 to earn a slight 39-38 lead as the halftime horn sounded.
Houghton used small bursts in the first seven minutes of the second half to earn its largest lead of the game, 59-52, with 12:48 left in regulation. But that lead would not hold as the Pioneers answered with their 17-2 run to take a 69-61 lead with 8:48 left in the contest.
An 11-4 run late in the game by the Highlanders put a scare in the Pioneers, who led by just two points, 81-79, with 25 seconds left. However, the Pioneers were able to net five free throws in the final 20 seconds to hang on for the victory.
The back and forth contest featured eight lead changes and four ties, but the Pioneers converted on 24-of-33 free throw attempts on their way to a five point victory.
Utica returns to action on the road next weekend when it travels to Ithaca on Friday (8 p.m.) and Elmira on Saturday (4 p.m.) for a pair of Empire 8 Conference contests to close out the regular season.