The Shepherd Rams (16-13) fell to the University of Charleston Golden Eagles (17-12) 74-65 in the quarterfinal round of the MEC Tournament Friday night in Charleston, West Virginia. It was the third meeting between the teams this season. The Golden Eagles have now won the season series with the Rams by taking two out of three games.
This was a game in which just looking at the final score would not show an accurate portrayal of how close it was throughout. The game featured 17 lead changes, as the Golden Eagles were unable to fully secure the lead until late into the second half.
Shepherd was sitting in a decent position holding a 37-33 lead at the end of the first half. The lead was achieved in large part due to two seniors who seemed determined to extend their Shepherd basketball careers a few more games, forward A.J. Carr and guard Steffen Davis.
Davis ended his first half with 14 points on his way to a 23-point night. Davis tied Jordan Smith of the Golden Eagles for the most points in the game.
Carr added 10 points and six rebounds in his first half performance.
The Rams shot an efficient 6-for-12 (50 percent) from three-point range and an even better 14-for-25 (56.0 percent) from inside the arc in the first half, but allowed the Golden Eagles to hang around with defensive mistakes.
The Golden Eagles made the necessary halftime adjustments and came out firing, outscoring the Rams 41-28 behind their top scorer, Smith, who gave the Rams’ defense all kinds of headaches with his stellar showing Friday evening.
Smith had 17 of his 23 points come in the second half alone, repeatedly driving the lane for easy buckets. Smith’s driving to the basket often also saw him end up at the free throw line, where he made all six of his attempts in the final half.
The Golden Eagles took the lead at 63-62 for the final time with a layup from Lamont McManus with just 5:20 left in regulation. McManus contributed 13 points and nine rebounds in the winning effort for Charleston in the lead support role.
The Golden Eagles were able to hit the necessary free throws to keep the lead in the closing moments to hold off Shepherd’s comeback attempt.
Shepherd hoped that they could have made more of a mark in the MEC tournament, as their 2017-2018 season is now officially over and must now look forward to next season.
After the game, via email, the head coach of the Rams, Justin Namolik, expressed praise for Carr, Davis, and senior forward Gavin McTavish.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching our three seniors grow as men,” Namolik said. “They have accomplished a lot both on and off the court. All three of them are outstanding students who are going to graduate in May. Most importantly, they truly enjoyed their Shepherd experience and will leave as proud alums.”
Overall, the Rams had a good season, Namolik said.
“We finished with a winning record and tied for fourth place,” Namolik said. “At the start of the season we believed we had a chance to finish in the top three, but our Achilles heel this year was playing well on the road. We didn’t play our best on the road and that cost us a couple more wins. However, I’m very proud of the growth of this team. We started the season 1-4 and had some glaring weaknesses but the team never gave up. This group stayed committed to the process of reaching our potential and coming together as a team and as a result, we vastly improved over the course of the season.”
The Rams will have to find ways to replace the production of Carr, Davis, and Gavin McTavish, but will have plenty of time to do so. Shepherd will not hit the court again until Novmeber.
Vaughn Brewer is a sports writer for The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org