The start of the Men’s basketball 2015-2016 campaign saw the unveiling of a new run-and-gun offense that propelled the Maroons to a strong 2-1 start.
In previous seasons, the Maroons predominantly utilized half-court sets that featured the team’s center, and former 1,000 point scorer, Daniel Eacho. However, with an influx of young and talented guards led by Eli Sumpter, Joey Miller, and Dustin Hassell, the Maroons have swapped their half-court sets for fast-breaks and quick shots. The change has led to a new, fast-paced, and exciting, brand of basketball the likes of which Roanoke has never seen.
The Maroons’ new style of play was first revealed in their opener against Lebanon Valley College in the PSU-Harrisburg Tip-Off Tournament. Unfortunately, the Maroons were topped 101-98 in the contest. Thanks to new NCAA regulations that deem previously-accepted contact a foul, the Maroons committed a total of 34 team fouls in the game. These fouls, and Lebanon’s strong free-throw shooting, proved to be their downfall.
Although the Maroons lost, their new offense was all anyone could talk about after the game. Led by John Fitchett’s 27 points on 12-16 shooting, the Maroons tallied 98 points even though the team only shot an average 43% from the field. Other highlights saw Miller score 19 and freshman John Caldwell score 11 points while securing 10 rebounds for a double-double in his first game for the Maroons. The new run-and-gun style seemed to provide countless opportunities to score in quick succession and allowed for a number of bench players to be highly involved in the scoring production.
Bolstered by the success of their new system, and hungry for the first win of the season, Roanoke turned its attention to game two of the tournament, a matchup against Rutgers-Camden. Again, the Maroons made use of their high-octane offense, scoring 67 points in just the first half on their way to a 116-82 blowout victory. Senior, and versatile big man, Cam Smith, stuffed the box score with 22 points, ten rebounds, and a few steals to lead the Maroons. Fitchett also added 22, Miller recorded 18, Hassell notched 13 and sensation Caldwell added 11 off the bench. The team also improved on its shooting percentage, bumping it up to 55% in the first half and nearly 50% for the game.
The team’s 116 total points marked the fourth most Roanoke has scored in history and the team’s 43 made field goals were the second most in school history. The 14 three-pointers dropped by the Maroons were also the fourth most all-time. With his two strong showings in the tournament, Fitchett secured himself the first ODAC Player of the Week honor. His 24 points per game, at an amazing clip of 71% shooting, made him the obvious choice for the award. He was a critical part of both games, recording a number of steals, assists, and rebounds along with his scoring outbursts.
After splitting their tournament games, the Maroons moved on to what will likely be their toughest matchup of the year, a road game against a Division 1 school, North Carolina A&T. However, the Maroons quickly proved that they were completely unfazed by the D1 talent and started the game on a tear, shooting 70% from the field in the first 12 minutes of play as part of a 27-5 run that saw Roanoke hold a 41-26 lead 20 minutes into the game. North Carolina made a push late in the first half to bring the score within nine, 57-48, at the half.
The second half was a more tightly-contested affair, with NC actually tying the score on a few occasions. Through their D1 counterparts kept trying to take the lead, the Maroons pushed the tempo each time their lead was jeopardized and eventually pulled away to secure a 94-87 victory. While the Maroons’ new offense impressed once again, scoring 94 points on just 31 buckets while shooting 50%, their defensive efforts really stood out in this game. Roanoke managed to hold their D1 opponents to a measly mark of 5-22 from behind the arc and a poor shooting percentage overall thanks to constant pressure from Maroon defenders.
Newly anointed ODAC player of the week, Fitchett led the Maroons again with 18 points and Bradley matched this mark thanks to his five three pointers. Smith and Hassell added 13 and 10, respectively and were part of 12 Maroons that scored on the night. This impressive team involvement bodes well sfor the Maroons as the season progresses and injuries inevitably become a part of the game.
Unfortunately, the A&T game was scheduled as an exhibition match, meaning the Maroons still sit at 1-1 on the season. Their next contests will be the Maroons’ first home games, which will take place today at 3:30pm and Saturday at either 11:00am or 1:00pm as part of the Dick Leftwich V-Foundation Classic in the Bast Center. Be sure to come out and support the Maroons and witness their high powered offense.