Rams push back toward top of conference
Naim Muhammad usually makes the most silent of imprints on any Shepherd basketball game.
He’s not vocale. He’s not a chest-thumping, me-first player.
But Muhammad, a mid-sized freshman starter, gets his rebounds, scores his points and gives the Rams a trusted hand with his fundamentally sound play.
When the Rams were at their Butcher Center last Thursday against Notre Dame College (Ohio), they had a two-game losing skid to trash. Notre Dame had recently whipped the nation’s No. 1 team, West Liberty, on the road. The Falcons had also tripped Shepherd in an earlier Mountain East Conference game.
Muhammad and company made a transition back to their previously seen winning ways with a 90-81 win over the fiesty Falcons, moving Shepherd’s overall record to 15-6 and its conference record to 10-5, good enough for second place in the fledgeling 12-team conference.
And Naim Muhammad? He was 8-for-11 from the floor for a badly needed 17 points. His nine rebounds were counted toward Shepherd’s 10-rebound advantage it held over the athletic Falcons. Muhammad had avoided the foul trouble that too often forces him to the sidelines. His reliable 28 minutes were an influential part of Shepherd’s success.
The teams showed the estimated crowd of over 700 people two different styles of small college basketball.
The first half had Shepherd get a significant seven-point lead just as it closed. The score was 36-29.
In the last half, the tempo was much accelerated and points came with far more regularity.
Shepherd had 54 points in that up-tempo second half, and Notre Dame followed suit with its 52 points.
There was a four-minute window midway through the last half where the Shepherd’s wealth of success moved its lead from 48-40 at the 13:45 mark to 61-43 with 10:01 remaining.
The Rams would need that hustle-gained 18-point lead because the Falcons had a surge of their own just off stage.
Notre Dame gave itself a chance to win by carving away all but four of points of its long deficit before succumbing to Shepherd’s free throw excellence in the fading minutes.
With Austin Cunningham, peppery Marcus Pilgrim and Morgan McDonald making every foul shot they attempted, the Rams were 8-for-8 in the dying minutes, staying perfect at the free throw on the night with a final showing of 13-for-13.
McDonald, who at first appeared to be shackled by a foul he committed in the first 30 seconds, shed his budding troubles and gave the Rams 12 rebounds and 16 points. Pilgrim gave his usual cheering section plenty to smile about with his team-leading 21 points and four assists. Cunningham missed most of his field goal attempts, but steadied for the most part by sinking 7-of-8 free throws and doling out five assists. Kevin Jones gave the Rams nine rebounds and nine points.
The usually free-wheeling Falcons could make only 41 percent of their shots from the floor and had the conference’s second-leading scorer, Lawrence DeArmond, score only 10 points and miss eight of his 12 shots. DeArmond entered with a 21.1 scoring average.
The quietest and most unassuming of the Rams’ string-music, first six players had once again helped send another conference team back to its chartered bus for a six-and-half hour trek back to its home base with a loss in its knapsack.
Muhammad had only drawn attention to himself with his silent contributions that mostly go unnoticed in Shepherd’s free-flowing games of potent scoring and constant rhythm.