With a smaller lineup, men’s basketball won a tough road contest against Dayton.
After almost completely blowing a 25-point lead on Wednesday against Fordham, the Owls needed a win over Dayton to regain momentum and, more importantly, to stay in contention for one of the top seeds in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
The Owls faced the Flyers without senior forward Lavoy Allen and didn’t miss a beat. Allen sprained his ankle in Wednesday’s win over Fordham. He warmed up for the team but never saw the floor.
The Owls managed to cruise to a 75-63 victory without Allen in one of the more hostile road environments in the A-10. Sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson, starting in place of Allen, scored five points while grabbing five rebounds, dishing two assists and swatting two shots.
While it would have been nice to see the Chester High School product produce more on the offensive end, the rest of his stats gave coach Fran Dunphy a glimpse of what to expect next year after Allen has graduated.
Junior guard Juan Fernandez might have had his best game of the season on Saturday. Fernandez scored nine points and also dished nine assists. That’s a solid line on its own, but Fernandez’s ability to protect the ball, as was evident with his zero turnovers, and solid on-the-ball defense really set him apart against the Flyers.
Fernandez’s shot still wasn’t falling, as he hit just four-of-13 shots, but he facilitated the offense to near perfection. Fernandez doesn’t need to put up 20 points every night for this team, as the Owls have plenty of scoring options.
What he does need to do, however, is put players, such as redshirt-junior guard Ramone Moore, who had a game-high 26 points on Saturday, junior forward Scootie Randall and sophomore guard Khalif Wyatt in the position to make their shots. Nine assists might be a bit of an anomaly, but if Fernandez truly embraces the point guard position, six or seven assists per night are not out of the question.
Saturday’s game also revealed an interesting insight into Dunphy’s rotation. With Allen out, Dunphy chose to run a small lineup with a short bench. Other than five minutes from sophomore guard T.J. DiLeo, Dunphy used a six-man rotation, with Wyatt being the primary option off the bench.
Speaking of Wyatt, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned when Wyatt went back to the bench earlier this semester. I feared that without the consistent minutes one gets as a starter, he might lose his confidence or shot.
That hasn’t been the case.
Wyatt has continued to thrive since being relegated back to a bench role. In the four games since Fernandez returned from his knee injury, Wyatt has averaged 12 points per game while shooting 53.3 percent from three-point land.
His production, despite his bench role, provides me with optimism. Whenever the starters go cold or need a rest, Wyatt can step in and provide a spark. He’s doing for this year’s team what Moore did for last year’s.
But, back to Saturday’s game. The win moved the Owls to 19-5 and 9-2 in the A-10. Only Xavier has a better conference record at 9-1. The four best teams are guaranteed to travel to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the conference tournament, a venue where the Owls have won three straight A-10 titles.
Rhode Island is currently in fifth place with a 7-4 conference record. Barring a gigantic collapse, the Owls should expect to have a first-round bye next month.
Allen could have played against Dayton but decided not to risk it, Dunphy said. Allen said he had faith in his teammates, which led to his decision not to play, Moore said.
“Nine minutes before the game, he came in and coach said, ‘Can you go?’ and he said ‘No,’” Moore said. “He said, ‘I’ve got confidence in those guys. They’re going to be able to do a good job without me.’ That’s what we did.”
Allen should return against Richmond on Thursday, but if Saturday’s game was any indication, Fernandez and the Owls are prepared if he can’t go.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.