The Shepherd Rams men’s basketball squad began the week by traveling to the third-ranked West Liberty Hilltoppers in a barnburner between the top two teams in the Mountain East Conference. There was no lack of scoring or effort as the Rams tried to avenge their 31-point loss to West Liberty earlier during the season. This time, the Rams came up short to West Liberty once again as they fell by a final score of 106–97.
Shepherd had six players finish with double-digit scoring, led by junior guard Austin Cunningham. Cunningham racked up 25 points while shooting eight-for-nine from the free throw line, as well as adding seven rebounds to go along with four assists. Senior guards Brantley Osbourne and Marcus Pilgrim played a big role in the scoring montage, Obsourne scoring 20 points and Pilgrim adding 16.
Morgan McDonald nearly added another double-double to his season total, finishing the game with 16 points and nine rebounds. Naim Muhammad added 11 points for the Rams and Kevin Jones scored 10.
Shepherd had the slightest of leads at halftime as they went into the break leading by one, 53–52. However, West Liberty came out of halftime on fire with a 13–4 run to take a 10-point lead with 14:01 remaining. The scoring didn’t stop there as West Liberty never looked back and went on to beat the Rams by nine points.
Shepherd shot a very respectable 45 percent from the field while hitting nine out of 20 three-points and making 22 of their 30 free throw attempts. Meanwhile, their opposition shot 52 percent while hitting 11 of 30 three-point attempts and 17 of 22 shots from the free throw line. The Rams were outrebounded by West Liberty 43–30. Oftentimes a team that rebounds effectively and efficiently wins the game; this game was no different.
The Rams did not dwell on the loss for long as they returned home on Saturday to face a hot Wheeling Jesuit team that came in riding an eight-game winning streak. Shepherd prevailed at home, outlasting the Cardinals 75–71.
Shepherd received a huge lift from a key senior on senior night. Osbourne would go on to tie Chad Myers’ school record of hitting nine shots from behind the arc, on his way to a game-high 31 points. Shepherd’s four seniors were honored on senior night, and you could feel the positive energy that was permeating throughout the Butcher Center.
McDonald added a double-double with 14 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Cunningham had an all-around solid game, adding 10 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds. Pilgrim tacked on another nine points for the Rams.
The Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals had four players score in double figures, led by Eric Siefert with 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Tim Goff added 17 points and seven rebounds for the Cardinals. Justin Fritts and Kyle Ritz each added 10 points.
Shepherd led going into half 44–31, and 23 of Osbourne’s 31 came in the first half. Wheeling Jesuit went on a 14–0 run in the second half, eventually coming back and taking a 66–62 lead with 4:41 remaining in the game.
Cunningham came up clutch for the Rams, hitting a layup with 1:03 left on the clock, then hitting three of four free throws to prevail the 75–71 victory. It was an enormous victory for the Rams on senior night as Wheeling Jesuit could have evened their record with the Rams in the Mountain East Conference standings if they had been victorious.
Shepherd shot 46 percent for the game, hit 43 percent from beyond the three-point line, and hit nine of 12 free throws. The Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals shot 47 percent from the field and 32 percent from three while making just seven of their 13 free throw attempts. The Rams were outrebounded 34–19 while committing 11 turnovers compared to nine from Wheeling Jesuit.
Shepherd now sits at 17–7 and 12–6 in conference play where they sit in a three-way tie for second in the Mountain East Conference standings. The 17 wins by the Rams happen to be the most for the school since the 2003–2004 season.
Shepherd has four games remaining in the regular season. Their next two games are on the road; they will travel to UVa-Wise on Feb. 20 for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off before heading to Athens, W.Va. to take on the Mountain Lions of Concord on Feb. 22.