The men’s basketball team opened its season with wins over both Seton Hall and Toledo.
One weekend. Two games. Two wins. The men’s basketball team opened its season 2-0 with a Friday night win over Seton Hall and a Sunday afternoon rout of Toledo at the Liacouras Center.
The team’s depth was on display in its 62-56 season-opening win against the Pirates. Around 10 minutes into the game, the Owls were down, 17-13, and junior forward Lavoy Allen picked up his second foul and would find himself on the bench leaving his team without one of its top scorers, but this ended up being the event that would spark the Owls’ offense.
After Allen picked up his second foul, the team would go on a 21-4 run to close out the first half. Seton Hall made some defensive stops, but the team couldn’t get things going on offense.
“We got ourselves in trouble by taking bad shots and getting deflated by that, and they did a good job getting on the break and attacking us,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “We caused that with bad offense more than bad defense.”
Stepping up in Allen’s place were junior guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, who put up 10 and seven points, respectively. Junior forward Michael Eric held his own in the paint, scoring six points and blocking four shots, but sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt and sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson would put the Owls over the top with their play. Wyatt scored five points with three rebounds and Jefferson pulled down five rebounds in 11 minutes of action during the first half.
“I don’t think we should be living on that. I think Lavoy is too valuable for us, but I was proud of how we managed the second half of the first half,” coach Fran Dunphy said.
The season opener was a breakout game for Jefferson as he recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds as the team’s anointed sixth man.
“You don’t even have to sit him down and talk to him about coming off the bench. He just understands that will be his role, and he runs with it,” Dunphy said.
“If we’re going to be good this year, I think we’re going to need him a lot,” Fernandez added.
Jefferson’s second-half production and the team’s defensive play allowed the Owls to stifle a comeback by the Pirates, who made the final score tighter with threes from senior guards Jeremy Hazell and Jamel Jackson. Hazell would lead the Pirates with 17 points.
“We let them up for air a little at the end, but I’m pleased with the win,” Dunphy said.
In the following game, there was no need to worry about a comeback as the Owls blasted the Rockets into orbit with an 82-49 rout.
“Everything went our way, but I think it was a situation where Toledo was outmanned,” Dunphy said. “When you’re playing a team that is outmanned, you want the intensity to remain where it is, and after the first couple of minutes, we understood what our jobs were, and we did what we needed to do.”
The Owls did their job – each of the starting five finished with double-digits in scoring. Eric led the way with 14 points and was followed by Allen and Moore, who each had 12 points.
“We were able to score inside, mostly at will, because we wanted to score and play hard in the paint to ease it up for the guards,” Eric said. “If you’re a force inside, the guards will be able to penetrate also.”
Junior forward Scootie Randall, the team’s new addition to the starting lineup this season, scored 11 points, which included three three-pointers. After scarcely playing the past two seasons, Randall has taken on a bigger role with the team.
“It’s funny. I believe with teams, some of the players have to pay their dues, and he’s paid his dues. He deserves this opportunity,” Dunphy said.
“Scootie has a lot of energy in him, and he brings a lot to the team,” Eric added. “He defends the best player out there.”
The blowout gave other Owls the opportunity to see some time on the court. Jefferson, Wyatt and sophomore guard T.J. DiLeo saw a combined 49 minutes on the court. Freshman guard Aaron Brown made his collegiate debut and scored five points. Graduate forward Dutch Gaitley and junior guard Jake Godino also saw some brief action in the closing minutes of the game.
Freshman guard Zack Leahy led the Rockets with 15 points in the loss. The Owls have an 11-day break before they leave for Orlando for the Old Spice Classic, where the Owls will play three games in a bracket-style tournament. The Owls play California Nov. 25 at 9 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Brian Dzenis can be reached at email@example.com.