PIKEVILLE, Ky -- It was easily UPIKE’s most hard-fought win this season as the Bears were able to find just enough to defeat University of the Virgin Islands on Friday, 86-79.
The win moves UPIKE to 9-2 overall to start the season and gets the Heritage Classic off with a bang.
It was a high-octane game from start to finish, one that took UPIKE some time to adjust to. The Bears couldn’t get the lid off the basket in the early going and the Buccaneers raced out to a 10-2 lead within the first three minutes.
UVI came into the game third in the NAIA in blocks per game and lived up to its reputation early on with three in the first four minutes. The Buccaneers intense defense confused the Bears early on and limited them to just 30 percent shooting in the first 15 minutes.
But then Jayvian Delacruz came alive with a 7-0 run by himself that provided the spark that the Bears needed. Delacruz had another clutch game that was special even for him, scoring a career-high 37 points with seven rebounds, all of which came on the defensive end.
After his solo run, UPIKE made eight of its last nine shots to close out the half with a 41-37 lead. UPIKE’s final five points of the first half came from Xaviar Gaona, who had another strong outing with 17 points and six rebounds.
UPIKE fell into another lull by the Bucs defense to start the second half as they were able to pull within one point multiple times shortly after halftime. But the Bears went on another Gaona and Delacruz-led run, this time with some help from Jovontae Carleton to build up a 10-point lead.
However, the Bucs hung around and were able to get back within two points with less than two and a half minutes to go. The Bears then turned again to Delacruz who hit each of his last three shots and a pair of free-throws.
He iced the game with a dunk off a Hail Mary pass from the baseline to give the Bears a seven-point lead in the final seconds.
The weekend continues with game two of the Heritage Classic against Wright State-Lake with a 4 p.m. matchup on Saturday at UPIKE Gym.