Last March, it was the one-two punch of then-senior guard Mark Tyndale and then-junior guard Dionte Christmas that got most of the credit for the men’s basketball team’s Atlantic Ten Championship.
However, not to be overlooked was the spirited play of then-junior center Sergio Olmos and then-freshman forward Lavoy Allen. The Owls’ big bodies combined to average 11 rebounds and 14.3 points per game in the conference tournament.
But this season, 7-foot senior Olmos and 6-foot-9-inch sophomore Allen have been banged up.
Olmos was sidelined for the Owls’ first four games because of an ankle sprain, and Allen is currently mending a fractured left thumb. Allen may be back in the lineup for tomorrow’s home opener against Miami (Ohio), but signs point to his return for Saturday at Penn State.
The Cherry and White’s other resident big man, freshman Micheal Eric, is still formatting his game to the college level. He’s a 6-foot-11-inch, 225-pound forward from Nigeria. This combination has left coach Fran Dunphy juggling his lineup card.
“It’s been a little different,” Dunphy said. “We spent most of the preseason working with two big guys, and as soon as we start the season, we don’t have Sergio. Then as soon as Sergio’s back, we don’t have Lavoy, so it’s just one of those things you have to deal with.”
The shorthanded Owls have been working mostly out of a four-guard lineup, with Olmos or Allen towering in the middle. While the team is faster on the floor, the lack of interior presence has been a factor. The 3-2 Owls were outrebounded in both losses.
On Nov. 16, Clemson muscled its way to 41 boards, and this past Saturday, Buffalo pulled in 33 rebounds to Temple’s 24.
The 6-foot-5-inch Christmas has been able to supply the team with his athleticism around the rim, leading the Owls in rebounds twice. However, the paint looks a little different without the elbows of both Olmos and Allen.
In Olmos’ first game of the year this past Saturday, he posted 12 points and two blocks in 27 minutes of play. Allen is averaging 11 points per game and can stretch out opposing defenses with his shooting touch. Once these two get in rhythm together, the Owls will have more stability under the basket, and potential drives to the hoop will be sent away.
One advantage to their absence has been the increased playing time of Eric and freshman guard Scootie Randall. Eric has appeared in all five games this season and is slowly refining his skills.
Randall, a local product from Communications Tech High School, played a significant role in the Owls’ 71-55 win over Lafayette Nov. 21. In Easton, Pa., he sparked the Owls’ offense with seven points and three rebounds.
Until Olmos and Allen are completely healed, it will be a smaller lineup for the Owls. This arrangement comes with its share of positives and negatives.
“It allows us to switch a lot [on defense] because we have a lot of same size guys making decisions,” Dunphy said. “On the offensive end, hopefully we’re a little bit better at ball handling, but we still have turned it over a few too many times.”
The Owls are averaging 15.8 turnovers per game, but they expect that number to decrease as the season goes on. Dunphy is also confident that early losses and injuries will only make the team stronger in the long haul.
“Anything can happen in the early part of the season,” Dunphy said. “If this is the worst thing that we have to deal with all year long, we’ll be a pretty lucky group.”
While the Owls’ frontcourt has been working without its own one-two punch, the good news is both Olmos and Allen should be reunited on the court in less than a week.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.