With a six-game losing streak behind them, the men’s basketball team is attempting to right the ship. With two wins in their last three games, they are well on their way to doing so.
The Lions’ first win of the new year came against Rutgers-Camden on Jan. 19, winning by the score of 77-62. However, even more impressive was their blowout against Hunter College, where the Lions brought the Hawks to their knees in Packer Hall on Jan. 20 with a stout defensive effort combined with plenty of fast break conversions.
The highlight of the night went to freshman guard Emmanuel Matlock, who made a diving save before dishing the ball over his head to streaking junior guard Brandon Johnson, who nailed a corner three to the raucous applause of the crowd of almost 100 in attendance.
“Just the hustle part, just trying to get the ball and hustle,” said Matlock, who was described by an assistant coach as a “gentleman” after the game. “And to have (Johnson) in the corner and just get him the ball as quick as possible, and then for him to make it, I didn’t expect him to shoot it but he made it. It was just the greatest feeling. We were having fun out there.”
The team had a lot of fun, to the tune of 19 steals, 11 assists and 33.3 percent from three-point range. The team ran a lot of three- and even four-guard sets during the game, which led to a disadvantage from a rebounding standpoint but let the Lions get out and run against their less-speedy opponents. This tends to work as their greatest advantage at times, but when it comes to rebounding it becomes their biggest weakness.
“When the small guys are playing the bigger guys they’re concentrating a little bit more in regards of boxing out and being in the right position,” head coach Kelly Williams said. “And they’re accepting it as a challenge, and they understand the size factor and the difference.”
It’s a risky strategy, but one that mitigates the loss in the middle of former freshman forward Kyle Cancillieri, who left the team toward the end of winter break.
“(Cancillieri) just decided to walk away, and (he) just felt that playing basketball and being a student athlete right now just wasn’t his top priority,” Williams said.
Now the team is starting to do fine in his stead, as four players scored in double figures in the win over Hunter. Johnson led the team with 15 points, while senior guard Al Matlock, senior guard/forward Kyle Rawson and junior guard Donovan Smalls all had 11. Emmanuel Matlock had nine points, four assists and six steals in the effort, leading the offense.
“We need to be aggressive when we’re smaller, we have the luxury of Kyle Rawson being able to play someone a little bigger with his athletic ability,” Williams said. “He’s still outside sometimes. But we just have to continue to stay aggressive and continue to be smart.”
Rawson has been a big part of the team’s recent success, playing a lot bigger than his 6’ 1” height. He grabbed a team-high six rebounds against Hunter. However, to Rawson, rebounding has to become a team game now.
“It just falls on everyone else’s back, to kind of gang rebound, get in there,” Rawson said. “Our guards have been doing a good job rebounding to help out our big men. We’re not the tallest team or the biggest team, so it’s a joint effort.”
Smalls, who was the team’s leading scorer a year ago, has now taken to more of a role of facilitator, taking a lot less shots than he did then. However, he has no problem taking on a new role in the offense.
“I have a different role this year, so I just do whatever the coaches ask me to do,” Smalls said.
The team unfortunately dropped their game to New Jersey City University on Jan. 21, 62-54, but the team will look to shake that off with their game against Eastern Connecticut State University, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. in Packer Hall.