The Shepherd Rams men’s basketball team comes into the 2012 season ranked #6 in the WVIAC, led by coach Justin Namolik and senior preseason All American forward Chad Moore. Last year they finished 14-14 overall and 11-11 in conference play. The Rams lost in the quarterfinals of the WVIAC tournament to West Liberty, 115-74.
Even with the crushing loss, Shepherd had managed to improve their record for the second year in a row. They field a deep team with plenty of veteran leadership.
“My first recruiting class at Shepherd will be seniors this year. They have established the culture of Shepherd basketball and have been the leaders in the progress we have made on the court. They know this is their last chance to break through to the top of the WVIAC and are determined to do so,” Namolik said.
Chad Moore of Winchester, Va., is the first Ram to gain Daktronics All-Region honors since Antar Parkman in 2001, after a season which saw him average 20.8 points and ten rebounds, while going 51 percent from the field and 73 percent at the free-throw line.
Moore is not the only source of offense on the 2012 squad. Shooting guard Brantley Osborne of Sunbury, Pa., returns for his junior season after averaging 15.3 points and shooting 39 percent from the three point line. The 6-foot-7 forward Sidney McCray of Milton, Fla., comes back for his senior campaign following a season which saw him average 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. New sophomore transfers Austin Cunningham and Morgan McDonald look to contribute as well.
This past Saturday, the Rams opened up their season hosting the Bowie State Bulldogs in the Clarion Hotel Tipoff Classic. They won 102-97. Moore led the way with 31 points and 12 rebounds. Osborne chipped in with 22 points and guard Austin Cunningham had 13. Forward Morgan McDonald had 12, and junior guard Marcus Pilgrim was the fifth player to score in double digits with 10 points.
The first thing you notice when you see Bowie State take the floor is their sheer size. Their roster has seven players who range from 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-9. The Bulldogs relied on senior forwards Najee White and Byron Westmoreland. They had 28 and 23 points respectively.
The Rams went into the half up 49-40, on 43 percent shooting from the field. The Bulldogs rallied back to outscore them in the second half, 57-53, but it was not enough to earn the victory.
I asked Namolik on what led to the win.
“Coming into the game, they were such a big team that we really stressed rebounding the basketball, and I thought we did a really good job of that. Going into half time, we had a lot more offensive rebounds. That was big. And we took care of the ball. They stepped up. They stayed composed down the stretch and it was huge. We had a lead and Bowie State was fighting back, and keeping our composure was huge for us.”
Shepherd outrebounded Bowie State 21-12 on the offensive boards, leading to more second chance opportunities. They also outshot the Bulldogs from three point range, 10-4. The Rams’ biggest lead was 16, but the Bulldogs worked hard to chip away at it and give themselves a chance towards the end of the game.
Namolik knows not to take a win like this for granted.
“It’s huge. One of the goals this team set for itself was to make the NCAA tournament. To do that, we have to beat the top teams in the region. I think Bowie State is one of the top teams in the region. At the end of the year, they are going to be at the top, so to get this win early in the year is huge for us,” he said.
Shepherd starts the season 1-0 and hosts East Stroudsburg (1-0) at 6 p.m. on Nov. 11 to continue the Clarion Hotel Tipoff Classic.
I asked how the Rams were going to prepare for the Warriors.
“We’ll enjoy the victory and wake up tomorrow and take care of business,” said Namolik.