Mississippi University for Women guard Tre Pinkson makes a pass Monday night in the men’s basketball team’s season opener against Blue Mountain College at Pohl Gymnasium in Columbus. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
November 13, 2018 10:24:16 AM
Ill'yan Scott tried his best to raise the roof in the Mississippi University for Women's men's basketball team's home opener.
The 6-foot-4 junior's dunk with 6 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the game sliced Blue Mountain College's lead to one point and made it sound like there were a lot more than 378 people in Pohl Gymnasium.
Unfortunately, Scott was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long. Harrison Fancher hit both free throws and then drained a clutch 3-pointer than provided just enough cushion the rest of the way in Blue Mountain's 81-74 victory.
Scott led The W with 21 points and nine rebounds. Former Starkville High School standout Keith Harris, who played with Scott at East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, added 17 points, five rebounds, and three assists. Shon Wright (11 points) and Tre Pinkson (10) also reached double figures. Former Starkville High standout Josh Skinner added two points and an assist in 20 minutes.
"Coach talked to us about energy at halftime and that we had to pick up our energy," Scott said. "We talked among ourselves and got each other going. We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and we just tried to get each other going like they should."
Jonah Simpson had seven of his 21 points down the stretch to help Blue Mountain, an NAIA school, improve to 2-0. Da'Juonta Ross had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Fancher added 13 points for the Toppers. Lukas Durasas led the way with 11 rebounds.
Blue Mountain built a 27-11 lead with 11:34 to play in the first half. A 3-pointer by Harris with 3.6 seconds to go in the half cut the halftime deficit to 45-34.
In the second half, the Owls turned up the defensive intensity. Increased activity on that end of the floor slowly made the difference in the second half, even after Harris had to leave the game for a few minutes after apparently tweaking an ankle. Pinkson scored on a layup off a turnover and Scott hit a 3-pointer to cap an 8-0 run that cut the Toppers' lead to 54-49. Wright added another trey to keep the Owls within one possession before a drive by Skinner set the stage for Scott's rousing dunk that made it 62-61.
On this night, though, the Owls didn't get to celebrate the program's first night, but they showed a fight coach Brian Merkel hopes will be there more consistently for 40 minutes at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when his team plays host to Talladega College.
"It was all on the defensive end," Merkel said. "We were switching zone and man, and we played zone in the first half. We had to. We just weren't able to get any stops. The guys really bought into that (in the second half). The effort level was there in the second half."
Merkel said the Owls used a lot of one-on-one matchups in an effort to create off the dribble. He said he will put more plays in as the season progresses, but he feels the Owls' skills lend itself to isolation plays that spread the floor and draw defenders to kick to open shooters or give players a chance to get all of the way to the basket. An 8-for-25 effort from 3-point range showed the Owls have enough shooters to make defenses pay if they stay in a zone. Defensively, Merkel is eager to see what happens when the Owls bring the defensive energy they showed in the second half for an entire game.
"If we play defense like we did in the second half for 40 minutes I think we're going to be very successful," Merkel said. "They scored some late, but if we continue to put in the effort defensively like we did in the second half, we'll put ourselves in great position to win."
Scott, who has played in the post and facing the basket, is excited to see what happens, too.
"It is going to be tough for everyone that is on the opposite side of the bench for us," Scott said. "When we can combine and play as a team, it is going to be hard to stop us."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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