Jake Meeske led St. Ambrose with 20 points on Wednesday, but the sophomore didn’t craft a win in the Fighting Bees’ Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference opener by himself.
Freshmen came up big repeatedly for St. Ambrose as it rallied for a 71-68 win over Olivet Nazarene at Lee Lohman Arena.
"Everybody is chipping in a little, and our freshmen, they’ve stepped up big so far this season," Meeske said. "They made some big plays tonight."
The Fighting Bees overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to earn the win, rallying after being down 63-57 with 3 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the game.
A 3-point basket by freshman John Kerr sliced the Tigers’ lead in half, and Meeske pulled the Bees within 63-62 when he hit a jumper with 3:11 remaining.
St. Ambrose moved ahead 65-63 when freshman Warren Allen found freshman Dylan Kaczmarek open for a 3-pointer on the right wing with 1:38 to go.
Olivet Nazarene answered quickly with a 3 by Nic Reed, the CCAC freshman of the year last season, but Kerr was fouled as he rebounded a miss by Meeske on the ensuing possession.
He hit two free throws to move the Bees ahead for good.
"I felt like our guys did a good job of staying with what we were trying to do. We were aggressive to the basket, showed some good patience," coach Ray Shovlain said. "It was a good win over a team that is expected to be one of the better teams in our conference."
St. Ambrose gave the Tigers some problems, working an effective 2-3 match-up zone that helped limit Olivet Nazarene to 35.4-percent shooting.
"I felt like what we did on the defensive end set a good tone for us," Meeske said. "We were really able to key in on things defensively, and that gave us a chance to come back once we got down."
Meeske scored eight of his points over the final four minutes of the first half, wiping out the 24-13 lead the Tigers had opened on a 3-pointer by Chris Green with 8 minutes, 49 seconds to go in the half.
A jumper by Meeske just over five minutes later gave St. Ambrose (5-2, 1-0 CCAC) a 27-26 advantage before the teams traded leads over the final minutes of a half that ended with Olivet Nazarene up 31-30.
"We needed to get back in it, and the guys did a good job of finding me," said Meeske, whose efforts were complemented by 12 points apiece from Kerr and Allen, who also led the Bees with nine rebounds.
Green led the Tigers (2-4, 0-1) with 27 points while Reed finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.