The Shepherd Rams men’s basketball team (16-12, 12-10 MEC) suffered a tough defeat to end the regular season against the visiting Fairmont State University Fighting Falcons (21-7, 17-5 MEC) who left Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with a 79-76 win on Saturday afternoon.
Shepherd senior forward A.J. Carr received a pass about halfway between the half-court and three-point line with mere seconds remaining with the Rams down by three with a 79-76 score, forcing him to launch a desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer to try and tie the game, but the ball bounced off of the backboard and rolled off of the rim, sealing the win for the Falcons.
No matter what the Rams tried defensively, they had a hard time defending Falcons junior guard Jason Jolly from beyond the arc. Jolly finished the game with a game-high 36 points, all of which came courtesy of the three-point shot.
Jolly made 12 out of his 19 (63.16 percent) three-point attempts against the Rams, proving to be a lethal weapon at key times for the Falcons. His 12 three-point makes and 19 three-point attempts were the most ever by any player in the Butcher Center’s history.
Senior guard D’Ondre Stockman also was a three-point threat for the Falcons. Stockman helped take away attention from Jolly by knocking down three out of his seven three-point attempts on the afternoon against the Rams.
Overall, the Falcons made 20 out of their 42 three-point attempts (47.6 percent), taking advantage of what has been a weak point for the Rams defense this season, as Carr would explain after the game.
“We’ve struggle defending the three-point shot all year,” Carr said. “It’s something that we work on every day in practice, and it’s been a long journey, and we’re still trying to figure out the best way to address that. We just got to get in the gym and practice as a team and really work on that.”
The strength of Jolly’s three-point shooting had the Rams defense on their heels the entire game, as they devoted great attention to try and contain Jolly from beyond the arc down the stretch. This increase attention to Jolly allowed Falcons sophomore forward Andrew Emrich to get comfortable, which was bad news for the Rams.
With the focus on Jolly, Emrich received passes out on the wing and made a series of nice spin moves and drives to the basket, where he converted on three layup opportunities in the final four minutes to help give balance to the Falcons offense down the stretch when they needed it most.
Early on in the game, the Rams seemed to be able to do whatever they wanted against the Falcons defense. Not even four minutes into the game, the Rams established an 11-3 lead that was capped off by a three-pointer by the Rams all-time three-point field goal leader, senior guard Steffen Davis.
Shepherd displayed crisp ball movement and played with a lot of energy, helping them get great shot opportunities early on that they often times were able to knock down.
This came before Jolly and the Falcons went on a three-point barrage that included 11 made three-pointers in the first half alone. By halftime, Jolly had made six three-pointers, helping the Falcons take a 38-33 lead at halftime.
Coming out of halftime, it was clear the Rams’ thought process consisted of continually getting shot opportunities for Carr down in the post. Carr put on countless impressive spin moves and maneuvers around, up and under the basket to set up great shot opportunities that he often times converted in the second half.
Carr, in his final home game as a Ram, had an impressive showing overall against the Falcons. He compiled his 12th double-double of the season with his 14-point and 10-rebound effort. Carr’s 14 points helped him reach the 1,500-point mark in his career, as he now has 1,504 career points in his storied career as a Ram.
All of this success on the offensive end came in light of the fact that the Rams simply had no answers for Jolly and the other Falcons three-point shooters in the second half. The Rams only kept one defender on Jolly for most of the game, hoping that he would eventually cool off.
Unfortunately for the Rams, this was not the case. Jolly made six more of his three-point attempts in the second half that helped seal the hard-fought road victory over the Rams.
Emrich was the only other player for the Falcons to score in double figures. He had an efficient afternoon by finishing with 10 points in just 18 minutes of action against the Rams.
Davis led the Rams with 20 points by making seven out of his 11 field goal attempts. Sophomore guard Thomas Lang’s combination of speed, athleticism, and a high basketball IQ helped him generate quality shot opportunities against the Falcons. Lang finished the afternoon with 16 points and led all players with six assists.
Fairmont State made 50 percent (29-of-58) of its shot attempts. The Falcons only managed to generate two free throw opportunities in the game, and made one of them.
Shepherd shot almost as well as Fairmont State, connecting on 49.2 percent (31-of-63) overall. The Rams showed some spark from beyond the arc by making seven out of their 20 three-point shot attempts. From the free throw line, the Rams were able to shoot just 63.6 percent on Senior Day (7-of-11).
The head coach of the Rams, Justin Namolik, believes that the Rams can bounce back from this loss and do well in the MEC Tournament next week.
“You know, I think we need to really hit the reset button for this week coming up,” Namolik said. “I think we’ve had a really solid season, finishing 16-12 and 12-10 in the MEC, it was really solid. We’ve had some games where we didn’t play our best, especially on the road, and I think that’s going to be our focus going in, [which] is that we need to play well at a neutral site in the Charleston Civic Center for sure.”
All three of the Rams seniors (Carr, Davis, forward Gavin McTavish) have clearly had a profound impact on Namolik and the Shepherd program.
“Well I love A.J., Steff, and Gavin like sons,” Namolik said. “They’ve accomplished a lot on the court. They’ve also accomplished a lot in the classroom, all three of them are going to get their degrees this spring. They’ve been the core of our program for the last four years. I’ve loved watching them grow as men, and they’re going to leave Shepherd and they’re going be basketball alums, proud Shepherd alums, and it’s been an honor to coach them.”
Carr was very appreciative of everything that Shepherd has given him during his time as a Ram.
“Going into it, the days leading up and the hours leading up, I really didn’t know what emotions I had, what I would feel when I got out here,” Carr explained. “As far as preparation, I just tried to treat it like another big game for us, but at the end of the day, it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, we wanted it to. I got a chance to reflect on the career I’ve had and the moments I’ve had in this gym with the supporters. I would say that this means a lot to have the support and the care and the love and the sharing and the resources that people have given to us and given to me to help me to have a great Senior Night in general.”
Even with the loss, the Rams were able to keep hold of their fourth-place position in the final MEC regular season standings.
Shepherd’s next game will be in the MEC Tournament next week. The Rams will play the fifth seed in the tournament, the University of Charleston Golden Eagles, at 8:15 p.m. on Friday, March 2, in the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
The Rams split the season series with the Golden Eagles in two meetings earlier this season. Back on Nov. 20, the Rams lost on the road to the Golden Eagles in Charleston by an 82-80 score.
Shepherd got revenge against Charleston with a 75-59 victory just one week ago on Feb. 17 at home in Shepherdstown.
Friday’s game will be a winner-take-all, with both teams fighting to keep their MEC Championship aspirations alive, as well as their season.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org