Effective offense gets Bobcats past Shepherd
On the cusp of its first view of a national tournament in 37 years, Shepherd was denied an immediate entry to the NCAA Division II’s Atlantic Regional by an efficient West Virginia Wesleyan offense whose whole was more than the sum of its parts.
The Bobcats spoiled Shepherd’s bid for a 20th win with their effective offense that used a series of player movements for open shots . . . or freed Ray Warren and Tanner McGrew to score against their assigned defenders. Beilein’s offense maximized the skills of nearly every player that wove through their lanes to open shots.
In a game that featured 16 lead changes and 10 ties, it was a decisive three-minute span midway along in the second half that leveraged the Bobcats to an 80-68 Mountain East Conference win. West Virginia Wesleyan had point guard Warren and reserve center McGrew give it a quick 15-5 advantage in points midway of the second half.
Yet as productive as Warren and McGrew were, the Bobcats received healthy contributions from four other players and Coach Patrick Beilein’s structured and effective halfcourt offense.
First, taking into account Warren’s 23 points and 6-for-7 shooting from the field and McGrew’s 18 points and 9-for-12 showing from the floor, the Bobcats made 61 percent of their field goal attempts, including 53 percent accuracy on three-point tries.
And then Beilein had Garrett Grantham with six assists and eight points in his 37 minutes in a game played just two miles from his home just outside Shepherdstown. Starter T. J. Thompson was bothered by foul problems but managed 13 points. Bobcat reserves Chris Dewberry and Derrick Stephens were a combined 5-of-6 as shooters and scored 15 points.
Through the decisive second half, West Virginia Wesleyan’s team defense was more effective than the limited quickness and skill level of its individuals ordinarily would have allowed.
The Rams actually held a 38-37 halftime lead; mainly because they had made all eight of their free throws, had only five turnovers, had four more rebounds and were making 48 percent of their field goal attempts.
But Morgan McDonald already had 11 of his 13 points and Austin Cunningham already had 11 of his 12. Brantley Osborne, a 20 points per game scorer, had been chained by Grantham’s defense and had just two of the seven points he would manage.
As soon as the second half started, the game’s intensity level was sparked, the same as the tension level was increased.
Shepherd would manage only 30 points in the second half, and without the 15-point half of freshman Naim Muhammad would have been without much offensive merit. Muhammad would finish with 23 points.
The Bobcats made their break from the back-and-forth scoring nature of the night without any fanfare or sensational individual play. Warren got past Cunningham time and again and McGrew softly scored inside against defenders he outweighed by 30 or 35 pounds.
With a nine-point lead, the Bobcats kept the diminutive Warren at the helm and he wormed his way through any potential trouble to reach the foul line about as often as needed.
The Rams’ loss inched them down in the conference standings to where they resided in a tie for third place with the same Bobcats that had just celebrated a road victory in their Butcher Center dressing room. Both sides were 14-7 in conference play with Shepherd still showing a 19-8 overall record and the Bobcats having a 19-10 overall mark.
In a historical irony of sorts, Shepherd had one final conference game . . . and that was at Joe Retton Arena in Fairmont against the Falcons. Retton is a legendary coach whose Fairmont teams won 83 percent of their games and made him a Shepherd Slayer in his long tenure of more than 20 years.
The Rams went back to the edges of the NCAA Division II tournament again. Back to the cusp again. And it was Fairmont, whose long comeback earlier this season beat the Rams in the Butcher Center, that stood in the way of a 20th victory.