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Maybe it was just the jitters of opening day, or junior guard Blake Smith sitting out due to a sprained ankle, but whatever it was, Radford University Men’s Basketball opened up their season with a 58-54 nail-biter win on Friday, Nov. 11. Radford struggled to control the game.
“First of all, defensively, I think we really locked in as a team,” said freshman guard R.J. Price. “And we defended them real well, offensively we had some dry spells, we probably could have gotten some better shots, but overall I think we took care of the ball, and we got we wanted for the most part.”
Radford led by a slight deficit of 23-18 at the half, and both teams seemed to have trouble with shooting and getting the ball to the basket. Price was one of the team’s leading scorers with 13 points. The team as a whole scored 12 points in free throw shooting, and shot 12-21 as a whole from the line. Delaware shot 22-36 from the line as a team.
“Free throws win games,” said sophomore guard Jareal Smith. “If you can knock down free throws, you can win games, if you can play defense, you can win games.”
The final minutes of the game saw Radford trailing by a slight margin, but Radford managed to come around with their shooting to take the lead, and foul shooting was what handed them a 58-54 lead that Delaware didn’t have time to cut into.
“It’s in the books, it’s a win, it goes on the ‘W’ column which is great,” said Head Coach Mike Jones. “But in the grand scheme of things it won’t mean a lot, come February [when a significant bulk of Big South play begins]. You know it’s all about getting better every day, that’s been our goal since day one. It feels great to win, but we expected to win. We go into each game, we expect to win. We were able to get our job done today and we’ve got to turn around and do it again in 24 hours.”
Radford’s second game of the weekend against Shenandoah on Nov.12 saw the Highlanders a little more on their game in the second half. After fighting to a 38-36 first half lead, Radford finished the game with a pounding 41-14 second half blowout to win their second game 79-50.
“I thought our defensive effort in the second half was where it should have been for most of the game,” said Jones after the second win. “Our guys after the half really focused in on what we needed to do.”
What was keeping Shenandoah in the game in the first half was their outside shooting. The Highlanders were effective in keeping them out of the paint, but at the break, Shenandoah was 8-12 in three point shooting, their shooters were able to get open too easily for Radford’s liking.
“I knew coming into the game that they didn’t have a whole lot of inside game,” Jones said. “They love shooting threes, but what happened was we were getting beat off the dribble.”
As the first half ended, Shenandoah fought Radford to a 36-36 tie. Sophomore forward Tolga Cerrah’s dunk was what gave Radford a 38-36 lead at the break.
“I thought our team in the second half really got re-focused,” said senior forward Johnathan Edwards. “We had a game plan. You know, we wanted to make things difficult, make them uncomfortable, they’re a team that the offense works on rhythm and being precise and stuff like that, so we wanted to knock them off their screens a little bit and just make it difficult for them offensively.”
Radford did a good job of that in the second half, as they outscored Shenandoah 41-14, and the second game went into the books as a win, to give Radford a starting record of 2-0 for the season.
After starting the season with two strong wins, the Highs played their first road constest on Nov. 14, when they traveled to Happy Valley, Pennsylvania to play against the Penn State University Nittany Lions. Coming into the game, RU Men’s Basketball owned an 0-5 all time record against Big Ten conference opponents.
After starting the game with a 9-3 lead over the Nittany Lions, RU faltered and found themselves in a 11-11 tie game midway through the first half. PSU broke the tie, though, and went on a 10-3 run to make the score 21-14. The Nittany Lions never trailed after halfway through the first half, and eventually scored a win over the Highs by a margin of 62-46. Jareal Smith led the Highs in scoring with 16, and was the only Highlander to reach double-digits in the points column.
With a record of 2-1, RU will now return home to the Dedmon Center to face off against Central Penn College on the night of Wednesday, Nov. 16.