Men’s basketball splits early bird tests

Joe Groglio

For all college basketball teams, the early season is a time to get their games into shape and build team chemistry and energy in preparation for the rigors of the New Year. The Wildcats took another step in their journey this week, splitting a tough two-game set with Temple and Monmouth.

The Temple game on Saturday was like all Big 5 battles: a hard fought war that came down to a basket or two for victory. The ‘Cats started the game off slow, missing a plethora of three pointers and jumpers from all over the court. But tough defense and solid interior play led to only a one-point deficit entering the second half.

In the second half, Allan Ray and Randy Foye got hot, finishing with 11 and 10 points respectively, but the Owls kept it close with an attack of their own led by guard Dustin Salisbery. Junior Jason Fraser displayed a solid interior game, scoring seven on very limited touches.

But the star of the game was Curtis Sumpter, who wowed the crowd with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

After a Salisbery three put the Owls on top with around a minute left to play, the Wildcats struggled offensively, with a turnover and a shot clock violation. Sumpter knocked down two free throws to cut the lead with 25 seconds to go, but after a missed Owl free throw, the ‘Cats were unable to convert, and lost by one.

“Its always tough playing those Big 5 games,” Nardi said. “It’s always a battle.”

This tough loss left the ‘Cats hungry and ready to win on Tuesday night, playing a tough NEC opponent in Monmouth.

The first half was close on the scoreboard, due to rushed shots and 11 Wildcat turnovers. However, ‘Nova took this as a wake-up call, and came out in the second half fired up and ready to play.

“We just tried to send five healthy bodies out there in the second half and tried to find some chemistry and intensity,” Coach Jay Wright said.

These goals were accomplished, as the ‘Cats pulled away to an eventual 70-50 victory.

Sumpter and Ray led the way, knocking down shots from all over. Nardi had a spectacular game, with 10 points, three assists, and most importantly, no turnovers. Forwards Will Sheridan and Chris Charles played key roles inside, with a combined 14 points and 11 boards. Wright was impressed with the key minutes provided by Marcus Austin, who replaced an injured Fraser for most of the second half.

The story of the night was Fraser, as he appeared hobbled by his swollen knee. Fraser battled through for two points and three rebounds but was in pain for nearly the entire game.

On Wednesday, Dr. Rob Good examined the forward and placed him on anti-inflammatory medication with the expectation that he would be able to practice today.

The conclusion of the game brought some playing time for walk-on guards Ross Condon and Tommy Grace. The crowd went wild after Condon dove on the floor to gather a loose ball. These players, along with Baker Dunleavy and Mike Claxton, deserve all the credit in the world for their work ethic and intensity, despite limited playing time.

The ‘Cats next travel to the Palestra, where they will take on the LaSalle Explorers in another Big 5 battle. Then they will return to the Pavilion for a match-up against Fordahm on Tuesday night.

One thing is for sure; the team is beginning to gel. The pieces are coming together, and it can only be so long before Fraser is fully ready to go.

And once this machine gets heated up, this squad will be as exciting to watch as anyone in the Big East