Three things came to an end last Tuesday after Shepherd’s 88-83 loss to Glenville State in the WVIAC playoffs: the game, the season, and a likely Hall-of-Fame career of one of Shepherd’s best basketball players, Chad Moore.
Two days before the loss, Moore was announced as WVIAC co-player of the week. The next day, both Moore and junior Brantley Osborne were chosen to be on the All-WVIAC team. Moore put together a season with 22.6 points per game (first in the conference) and 9.2 rebounds per game (third in conference) and eleven double-doubles. He also set a new single season record for the Rams with 68 steals. He was a first team selection for the second straight year and the first since Antar Parkman in 2000-01 to gain back-to-back first team All-WVIAC honors.
Osborne was a second team selection, leading the conference in free throw percentage and three-point field goals made. He averaged 16.7 points per game and his 88 threes set a new single season record for Shepherd.
But ask either one of them what they’d rather have – I bet you it would be a deeper ride in the playoffs with the hopes of raising a WVIAC trophy above their heads.
The stage was set for another celebration following their senior night dismantling of Wesleyan: hosting a team with a lesser record in front of a raucous home crowd. On paper I had Shepherd winning this game by a comfortable margin, but that is why they play the games on the court.
While they took the lead early, Shepherd never seemed to gain full control at any point in the game. They let the Pioneers crawl back into it and traded baskets for most of the first half.
The superior athleticism of Glenville was evident at points when freshman forward Joe Ballard threw down a dunk over a few Shepherd defenders. His teammates tried to connect on alley-oops to him and junior Lamar Mallory, but came up short each time. Then at 9:51 in the first half, junior guard Kevin Gray connected with Mallory and stunned the Shepherd faithful. Ballard got in on the alley-oop action just a few minutes later and put the Pioneers up 41-38 heading into the half.
Glenville used an array of passing to keep the Shepherd defenders off balance, breaking their press at will. Gray remained wide open in the corner many a time, killing any momentum the Rams had on their side with confidence-piercing three-pointers.
Shepherd remained behind until 14:41 when senior Sidney McCray drained a three pointer to put them up, 52-49. Glenville snuffed out the lead change with a three of their own seventeen seconds later by who else? Kevin Gray. From then on, Shepherd never held the lead again.
The Pioneers had stifling defense which barred Osborne from catching fire. He went 3-7 for the game and 1-4 from beyond the arc, totaling only 8 points. Moore did the best he could to keep his career alive as well as the Rams’ season, scoring 29 points with a remarkable 15-19 effort from the free- throw line with the four misses coming in a two minute span in the first half.
When you look at the box score, the Rams were only outrebounded by seven boards, 43-36. In person, it felt like a lot more. While Glenville boasts a roster containing six players that are 6’5 or taller, it was the guards who did the most damage on the boards, snaking their way into the lane after missed shots and putting the ball back in to halt any progress by the Rams.
Ten days earlier, Shepherd beat Glenville in the same building 87-79. What changed? I asked coach Justin Namolik.
“We missed a lot of layups and they denied Brantley the ball. We weren’t playing hard enough, especially in the rebounding game. We seemed to play not to lose instead of playing to win,” he said.
The crowd emptied the Butcher Center following the game in a stunned silence, not believing the season was over for the Rams. They were robbed of another chance to see Chad Moore pirouetting through the lane for a finger-roll layup or drive in for a powerful dunk.
For the second year in a row, a season with a lot of promise started off hot and ended ice cold.
“It’s tough, we had higher expectations. You think of some of the close games we had. We lost to buzzer beaters against West Virginia State and Concord and a close game to Fairmont. Then we lost to a 1-16 Bluefield State team. You can’t lose like that in this league,” said Namolik.
The silver lining here is that Moore and Osborne set new records and the Rams had their first winning season since 2007-2008. Moore finishes his career with 2,083 points and 1,035 rebounds. He just missed surpassing former Ram Larry Boomer (1,039) for third all-time in rebounds. They say less is more, but now the Rams are left Moore-less. Players like him don’t come around that often and Shepherd basketball fans will truly miss him as well as the other six departing seniors.