Welch leads BSC past Rust, 97-77, in season opener

Ross Welch (photo courtesy of Larry Radloff, d3photography.com)
Ross Welch (photo courtesy of Larry Radloff, d3photography.com)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Led by a career-high 26 points from junior Ross Welch, the Birmingham-Southern men's basketball team opened its season at home Saturday evening with a 97-77 victory against Rust College in the first game of the annual Black Tie Classic, hosted by the Panthers in Bill Battle Coliseum.

It was the season opener for both teams. Rust will face College of Faith tomorrow at 3 p.m., and BSC will take on LaGrange at 5 p.m. LaGrange and CoF faced off in the second game this evening, with LaGrange winning 104-100 in overtime.

BSC opened a 14-8 lead over Rust in just over five minutes of play, with Welch accounting for all 14 points. The junior started 5-5 from the field including four triples. Rust came charging back with a 7-0 run in the ensuing two minutes to claim a 15-14 lead with 13:01 left to play in the first half. The next nine minutes of game action would feature six lead changes and three ties before a three-pointer with 4:42 gave Rust 28-27 advantage. Rust would push the lead out to seven with just under two minutes remaining in the opening half. Down 36-29, Welch poured in five more of his 19 first-half points to help BSC narrow the gap to a 37-36 halftime deficit.

A free throw and three ball from Welch provided BSC their first lead of the second half. Over the next three minutes of the game the two squads remained deadlocked in a tight affair and with 16:01 left in the game Rust claimed a 48-43 advantage.

Another three-pointer at the 15:15 mark, this time from senior Mason Holle, pulled the Panthers to within one at 48-47. After a Rust layup, junior John Crain nailed a three of his own to even the contest at 50 apiece with 14:39 remaining in the game. Less than a minute later a layup from sophomore Evan Lewis gave the Panthers their third lead of the game at 52-50 and would trigger a 47-27 run to close out the game. In the decisive stretch sophomore James McLean dropped seven points, while Lewis, Crain, and freshmen Mac Barron and Sam Martin contributed six points each.

Welch's 26 points led all players; he was 9-13 from the field including 7-10 from three-point range. Junior Alex Avery collected a game-high nine rebounds and Holle dished out a game-high four assists.

For Rust, Frederick Fairman led with 13 points and was followed by Johnathan Bownes with 12. Domonic Hudson led Rust with seven rebounds.

BSC shot 56.7 percent (34-60) from the field including 59.3 percent (16-27) from beyond the arc. The Panthers hit 65 percent (13-20) from the free throw line. Rust was not as effective, hitting 44.6 percent (29-65) from the field, 35 percent (7-20) from long range, and 57.1 percent (12-21) at the line.

Both teams struggled with turnovers—BSC had 16 and Rust had 14—and BSC out-rebounded Rust 38-34.