What you missed: Men’s Basketball

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Matt Halberg

mjhalberg@radford.edu

For the first time in almost three years, the RU men’s basketball team has a winning record in the Big South Conference.

That, and much more transpired on the hardwood floor at the Dedmon Center and elsewhere in the Big South while Radford students were enjoying their winter break. After finishing with a so-so record of 6-8 in non-conference action, the Highlanders got off to a slow start in the Big South Conference with a 74-81 loss to Charleston Southern University inside the Dedmon Center. Sophomore guard Javonte Green led the way with a double-double, 16 points and 13 rebounds, while fellow sophomore guard R.J. Price added 19 points and six assists. Despite the strong efforts of Green and Price, the Highlanders dropped their home league opener.

What followed was four straight games worth of up and down moments from the young Highlander team. A 59-54 triumph over High Point University gave the Highs their first league win: Price, Green, and senior guard Blake Smith all finished that game with double digit points. A dismal 18-point loss to UNC Asheville on the road followed three nights later on Jan. 12, but the Highs’ spirits were lifted again with an 82-72 victory over Big South newcomer Longwood University. Price poured in 30 points in front of the Dedmon Center crowd against the Lancers, including four shots from 3-point range.

“I think we have a new identity this year,” Price said. “I think everyone’s a lot more dedicated. We’re in the gym getting extra shots almost every night. Everybody on the team is so talented, and we push each other, so you’ve got no choice but to get better.”

Price followed up his 30-point gem by draining a buzzer beater that gave RU its third conference victory of the year in a hard-fought defensive battle against Gardner-Webb University on Jan. 19. Although he only had 12 points against GWU, Price hit his most important shot of the night with the Highlanders trailing 49-51 with only five seconds left on the clock. Instead of going for the tie and overtime, Price pulled up for a 3-pointer that caught nothing but net.

“I definitely think we’ve grown together, the whole team has. We’ve all been asked to step up as freshmen and sophomores, and I think we’ve done that pretty well,” sophomore guard Kyle Noreen said. “This year we’ve shown on the floor that we can really work well as a team.”

After suffering a 60-69 setback on the road against Campbell University, the Highlanders returned home on Jan. 26 to deliver one of the most exciting home wins in recent memory. Trailing by as many as 10 points for much of the second half, Radford stormed ahead with a dominating

performance by Green (26 points) and significant help from Price (12 points) and freshman guard Rashun Davis (10 points) to eventually triumph over Winthrop University with a 58-57 win.

They might only be seven games into their hunt for this year’s Big South title, but this Highlander team is showing flashes of maturity more fit for a squad of upperclassmen, instead of the bunch of sophomores and freshmen they really are.

“We all learn together,” said Price. “Everybody knows the process, everyone knows their role. We’re just trying to get more consistent, and have everybody give everything they’ve got every night we’re on that court.”

The Highlanders now sit at 10-11 overall, and 4-3 in the conference for the 2012-13 season. Their remaining slate is a host of 10 Big South Conference games that will reveal whether they’re ready to hold up the Big South Conference trophy at the end of the season. For Price, Green, Noreen and the rest of the Highlanders, that moment might come sooner than a lot of people paying attention to the Big South Conference at the start of this season might have predicted.

“Our goal is to win the Big South championship. Even though we have a lot of young guys, I think we have the talent to do it,” Noreen said. “We just have to come together as a team; everyone has to play their role.”