The Shepherd Rams men’s basketball team (5-6, 2-4 MEC) traveled to Richmond, Va., Tuesday evening, Dec. 19, where they held the Virginia Union University Panthers (7-7, 2-0 CIAA) to under 60 points in a close 62-56 victory.
Early on in the game, Shepherd struggled on offense, not getting on the scoreboard until the game’s first three plus minutes had gone by. Virginia Union would go on an 8-3 run to earn a 12-6 lead within the game’s first six minutes, forcing Rams head coach Justin Namolik to call a timeout.
The Rams shot 12-of-27 (44.4%) from the field in the first half. Rams sophomore point guard Thomas Lang posted 11 points by himself in the first half alone, accounting for over one-third of the team’s 32-point first half total.
Lang made three three-pointers in the first half. He is emerging to be another threat from behind the three-point line for the Rams, which will make it harder for opposing teams to defend the paint.
In the final minutes of the first half, both teams shared buckets with one another, as Shepherd had a slim 32-30 lead at the halfway point.
The Rams’ defense generated four steals and forced nine Panthers’ turnovers in the first half, helping to build their narrow lead at the break.
In the second half, the Rams came out firing behind the three-point line, making 7-of-18 (38.9%) from distance. The Rams’ sharpshooter himself, senior guard Steffen Davis, made five three-pointers in the contest.
Davis, who finished with 15 points on the night, earned all of his points from the three-point line, making 5-of-12 (41.7%) from beyond the arc.
The Rams forced Virginia Union to shoot 34.6 percent (9-26) from the field and 33.3 percent (3-9) from beyond the three-point line in the second half of action.
Shepherd fans have to be happy with the defensive effort the team has been showing recently. Against Virginia Union, the Rams forced the Panthers into 18 turnovers, helping lead to 18 fast break points for the Rams.
Offensively, the Rams did not have their best day, but they buckled down on defense, allowing them to stay in the lead throughout most of the second half.
In the final minute, down by five, the Panthers were not giving up, but were forced to foul Shepherd senior forward AJ Carr.
Carr, who led all players with 16 points, made one out of two free throw attempts to give the Rams a 60-54 lead with 11 seconds left in regulation.
Panthers’ senior guard Kory Cooley quickly received a pass and launched a desperation three-pointer just seconds after, but missed it. However, his teammate, Jordan Peebles, a freshman
guard, got an offensive rebound and made a layup with mere seconds remaining to trim the Rams’ lead to 60-56.
The Panthers would be unable to foul again or get another shot off, however, as Lang found Carr behind the Panthers’ defense on a beautiful pass that Carr converted into a fast break dunk that put an exclamation point on the Rams’ 62-56 victory.
Shepherd showed resilience in closing out this tough road game. This win marked the second win in a row for the Rams.
Lang had an excellent all-around game for the Rams, finishing with 14 points, three rebounds, and four assists. Generating steals was also a strong suit of Lang’s game Tuesday evening, as his aggressiveness defensively earned him four steals on the night at the hands of the Panthers’ ball handlers.
Rams junior guard Dererk McKnight only posted two points on the night, but did manage to shine in other areas. McKnight had three rebounds in addition to six assists, helping to set up his teammates for nice, easy looks at the basket that they often times converted.
Cooley tied for the Panthers’ lead in points with 12 on the night. He had a great impact on the game with his five rebounds and seven assists – the most by any player in the game.
Despite the win, if there was one thing the Rams could improve upon, it would be rebounding. The Rams lost the rebounding battle 42-29. This helped give the Panthers a 17-7 edge in second chance points, which helped them stay in the game on a rough shooting night.
The Panthers had a rough night offensively, as only Cooley and Todd Hughes, a fellow senior guard, were able to reach double figures in scoring. Just like Cooley, Hughes compiled 12 points in the game. Hughes also showed great contributions for the Panthers on the boards, bringing down seven rebounds on the night, which was the second-most in the game to Peebles’ nine.
The Rams’ next game is a home matchup on Saturday, Dec. 30, against Lincoln at 4 p.m. in the Butcher Center.
Justin Cole is a Sports Writer for The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.