The Shepherd Rams men’s basketball team (9-6, 5-4 MEC) outlasted the Notre Dame Falcons (4-11, 2-7 MEC) by coming out with a 94-91 road victory in South Euclid, Ohio, on Thursday evening, Jan. 11. Both teams were on a roll offensively, as each side shot over 50 percent from the floor.
Thursday evening’s win marked the sixth victory in a row for the Rams, catapulting them into fourth place in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) standings, with Concord and West Virginia State just behind.
Notre Dame gave Shepherd all it had, however, on this particular night, as the game went down to the wire.
With five seconds left in regulation and the Rams up by just one, Rams senior forward AJ Carr made two clutch free throws to increase the Rams’ lead to 94-91.
Notre Dame then proceeded to call a timeout with two seconds to play after successfully inbounding the ball and getting it up the court to set up a potential game-tying basket.
On the inbounds play, Notre Dame inbounded the ball to senior guard Kyauta Taylor, who was double-teamed by two Rams’ defenders when he caught the inbounds pass. Taylor had to take an off-balance, desperation three-pointer, but it bounced off of the rim and fell to the ground as time expired, giving the Rams a hard-fought road victory.
Following the game, via email, Justin Namolik, the head coach of the Rams, described what he was telling his team during the timeout in the huddle before Taylor’s shot.
“[F]for the final play, we had to stick on our guy, contest the shot and don’t foul,” Namolik stated.
The Falcons battled extremely hard to get the lead back from the Rams down the stretch. Two free throws by redshirt-sophomore guard/forward Drew Scarberry cut the Rams’ lead to just one with a 92-91 score with just six seconds left in regulation.
Carr’s two free throws helped the Rams seal off the deal on a night where the Rams played so well offensively.
Shepherd was deadly accurate all night long, shooting 55.6 percent (35-for-63) overall from the floor and 46.9 percent (15-for-32) from beyond the three-point line. The Rams did not get to the free throw line that often, but still shot 9-for-11 (81.8 percent) in this department when they did get there.
Namolik elaborated on what led to such a successful night offensively for the Rams.
“[W]when we move the ball and get good shots, we have a number of guys that can convert,” Namolik said.
The Rams had five players reach double figures in scoring on what was a balanced night scoring wise offensively. Leading the way was junior guard Derek McKnight, who frustrated the Falcons with his 23-point outing. McKnight’s 23 point-performance was just one point behind Taylor’s own 24-point performance for the most points in the game by one player.
After the game, via email, McKnight, who had a solid shooting night (7-for-12) (58.33 percent), explained how he was able to get into such a good shooting rhythm against the Notre Dame defense.
“I give the glory all to my teammates,” McKnight said. “They were able to find me a lot and heavily encouraged me to keep shooting which gave me all the confidence I needed. Then when you see the first couple shots going in, and know that your teammates are behind you, rooting for you, it just makes the game that much easier and you don’t feel like you can miss.”
Rams sophomore guard Thomas Lang finished 16 points on the night, the second most on the team. Lang also excelled at sharing the basketball by finding his open teammates, compiling a game-high eight assists. Being aggressive on defense led to four steals four Lang as well, as he had an all-around complete game for the Rams.
Senior guard Steffen Davis shot 5-for-11 from three-point range, earning all 15 of his points from beyond the arc. No matter what the Notre Dame defense tried defensively, Davis found a way to get his three-point attempts off and help make the Shepherd offense that much more difficult to defend.
Notre Dame played very offensively as well, however, helping to keep them in the game with the Rams. At halftime, the Rams were up by just one point at a 49-48 score, as both defenses simply could not contain or slow down either team’s offense.
The Falcons shot nearly as well as the Rams, making an astounding 54.1 percent (33-of-61) of their shots. From beyond the arc, the Falcons were truly lethal, making 18 three-pointers and shooting 46.2 percent (18-for-39) in the game.
Taylor caused headaches all game long for the Rams. He was a very hard shooter to contain all evening. Taylor shot 6-for-11 (54.55 percent) from beyond the arc to help him finish as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points.
Freshman guard Levi Frankland had a hot hand from three-point range as well for Notre Dame. Frankland shot 5-for-8 (62.5 percent) from three-point range to aid in fueling his 18-point outing.
Scarberry’s four assists tied for second most in the game overall with Carr. By penetrating the Rams’ defense, Scarberry more often than not was able to find the open shooter and deliver a nice, accurate pass for his teammates, who then knocked down their open looks.
McKnight gave his perspective on how the Falcons’ offense was able to find such a high level of success against the Rams’ defense.
“What made the [F]falcons so hard to defend was defending them coming off the screens,” McKnight explained. “That tiny bit of space they have when we were trailing them coming off that screen is all they needed to get their shot off. But in the second half we made good adjustments to some of their key shooters so they wouldn’t get that look and we were able to pull it out down the stretch.”
In the first half, the Falcons made half of their three-point attempts (11-of-22). Something changed in the second half however, as the Falcons shot 7-for-17 from beyond the arc to shoot a respectable but not as effective 41.18 percent.
This percentage was still very serviceable for the Falcons, but taking so many three-point attempts may have taken away from the Falcons’ ability to develop an inside game against the Rams. In the paint, the Rams had a 40-26 advantage scoring wise.
Shepherd relied heavily on the three-point shot as well, but when they drove the ball inside, they converted at a higher rate than the Falcons were able to muster.
Carr had an excellent game down low for the Rams, recording 13 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Junior forward Winston Burgess had another strong outing down low as well, as he also posted 13 points to go along with six rebounds.
The Rams did lose the rebounding battle by a slim 30-28 margin and recorded just two second chance points to the Falcons’ 11 points here on the night, but were still able to find a way to hold off the Falcons.
Thursday evening’s win may not have been that impressive on the defensive end for the Rams, but as Namolik would explain after the game, the Rams were happy to hang on for a crucial road victory over the Falcons.
“We did not do a good job of defending the three [point shot] tonight but I liked our collective fight and toughness down the stretch. We made just enough plays to pull out the win,” Namolik said.
On Saturday afternoon, the Rams will look to increase their winning streak to seven games when they travel to Urbana, Ohio, to take on the Urbana University Blue Knights, who currently hold the 10th spot in the MEC standings. Tip-off is at 4 p.m.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com