Shepherd opens season with wins over Lock Haven, Kutztown
If injuries are going to visit the Shepherd men’s team this season then the Rams will need the useful reserves they found willing and able when defeating both Lock Haven (by an 82-63 count) and Kutztown (80-75 on Saturday night) in the annual two-game tip-off tournament they play each season at the Butcher Center on campus.
Shepherd had played an exhibition game in Morgantown against WVU and its leading scorer and most polished performer in a lopsided loss to the Mountaineers was freshman point guard Steffen Davis. The lithe Davis had 14 points against the pressure defense of West Virginia.
This past weekend in the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center tournament, Davis wasn’t even dressed. He limped along the sidelines, the victim of an obvious leg injury. His teammates, some first-year players like him, had enough confidence — borne by the home court environment and opening to the 2014-15 campaign — to do without Davis’ services for at least two nights.
In storming to a 47-23 halftime lead against Lock Haven, the Rams opened slow-to-close wounds in the Bald Eagle offense with a full court press that all but kept the visitors scoreless for over five minutes.
Not only did Lock Haven miss its shots from the floor, but it couldn’t make free throws, going 1-for-9 in the first half.
The Rams didn’t burn down the place either, leading 16-6 with just 8:23 left in the half.
But then Morgan McDonald, Ryan McTavish and Austin Cunningham found their scoring stride and the Rams totaled 31 points in the last seven minutes of the half to long jump to a 47-23 halftime lead.
Shepherd had made 12-of-13 free throws, 53-percent of its field goals and landed nine more rebounds than the struggling Bald Eagles.
The teams seemed satisfied to trade points in the early minutes of the second half. As Shepherd’s comfortable lead remained in the 20-point range its defense became much looser in the game’s last eight minutes. And Shepherd turnovers led to Lock Haven fastbreak scores.
Even without Davis the Rams had solid contributions from eight players with McDonald, Cunningham and Ryan McTavish providing more dry ammunition than the others.
Against Kutztown, a long loser to Wheeling Jesuit the night before, an active, halfcourt offense boosted the Rams to an 11-4 lead that was soon at 23-9 when Skyler Roman, Cunningham and Ryan McTavish all counted three-point field goals.
The fast-paced tempo of up-and-down running favored Shepherd. The rebounding was about even but the Golden Bears had 10 turnovers and the Rams had only four.
If it hadn’t missed most of its field goal attempts in the last minutes of the first half Shepherd’s lead would have been more than the 35-23 advantage it held.
A hot pace greeted the second half, but neither team did much scoring. However, near the 14-minute mark Shepherd improved its overall marksmanship and spurted out to a 46-28 lead.
That was Shepherd’s high-water mark of the game.
Tepid shooting from the field and a defense that could no longer disrupt the Golden Bears meant the Rams could not keep the same advantage. It was only a 50-41 lead with over 10 minutes to play.
Tynell Fortune took the reins of the Kutztown offense and began scoring on three-pointers.
Shepherd’s temperament showed no signs of urgency or the now-present trouble it saw. Even with its lead hacked away to only 56-55 the Rams never showed any upswing in intensity.
Roman’s three-pointer shoved the once-impressive lead to 61-55 but Fortune kept scoring on the other end.
In the final minute, the Kutztown bench received a technical foul and Shepherd moved ahead by six points on free throws.
Fortune had another three-point in his bag of points. But the Rams weren’t going to be caught.
Shepherd was 2-0 in the event, as was Wheeling Jesuit. Both Lock Haven and Kutztown were 0-2.
And Shepherd had won without its starting point guard and leading point scorer from its exhibition game against West Virginia University.