Men’s basketball season ends at Avila

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The men’s basketball team ended its season Tuesday with a 71-53 loss to the Avila Eagles during the play-in round of the HAAC tournament. The Wildcats, who finished at 9-20 overall and 3-15 in the conference, fell in the opening round of the HAAC tournament for the third consecutive season.

“Bottom line is this: we didn’t rebound and didn’t defend well enough in the second half and now we’re going home,” head coach Sean Dooley said.

The Wildcats entered the game as the No. 9 seed in the HAAC tournament and had to play in the opening round while the top six teams in the standings received a bye. Baker was facing an Avila team that had defeated the Wildcats in four consecutive games, including a 73-63 loss at home and a 74-60 loss in Kansas City two weeks this season.

The Wildcats slowed Avila’s up-tempo game in the first five minutes to keep the score tight, limiting the Eagles to tough looks in the half court.

“I thought we did a good job early, really in the first half,” Dooley said. “They’ve got a lot of really good offensive weapons there and we did a nice job defending them.”

Baker took Avila’s best player, first-team all-HAAC junior Sedrick Johnson, out of the game early and he wasn’t a factor throughout the rest of the game. Johnson was averaging 19.9 points per contest coming in and the Wildcats held him to just 8 on the night.

“Credit them,” Dooley said. “We stopped two of their best guys, but the next guys stepped up.”

Baker trailed by two points with 2:45 to play before the half. Avila led Baker 25-19 after the first 20 minutes.

Baker turned the ball over only three times in the first half, however, the ‘Cats shot a meer 21 percent to accompany the well-possessed first half.

Stopping Avila’s next three best players in sophomore Trey Bales, junior Nduka Ezeamii and senior Brandon Murillo would prove to be a problem in the second half for the Wildcats. Bales excelled from beyond the three-point line firing 13 threes and cashing in on five. He led the Eagles in scoring with 21 points.

Ezeamii also helped the Eagles with 17 points, 11 rebounds and two towering slam-dunks, one of which came on an alley-oop tossed up by junior Jeremy Fennell.

“I really think, in the second half, if we had done a better job on the glass then we would’ve been fine defensively,” Dooley said. “But credit them. They outworked it and got some of those balls and they made us pay.”

Avila opened up the second half on fire with three trifectas; two from Bales and one from Fennell. The Eagle lead was 44-31 after the first seven minutes of the half.

Then, the Wildcats made a run to cut the lead back to seven with 7:52 on the clock. Avila called on the long-bombers, Bales and Murillo, and the Eagles ran away with this one with a double-digit lead for the closing minutes of Baker’s season.

Murillo finished with 10 points and two perfectly timed threes to send the Wildcats season to an abrupt ending.

Dooley pulled seniors EJ Carter and Fulks with 1:02 to play in the game and they received their final ovation in a Baker uniform from the loyal Baker fans in attendance in Kansas City.

“Both of them had great careers for us,” Dooley said. “Jared was Mr. Consistent ever since he stepped foot on campus. His numbers are the same and the way he works is the exact same. ”

Carter was named to the third-team all-conference team this past Sunday along with honorable mention sophomore Javeion Gray.

“EJ has been here a little bit longer. He’s been here for three years and I think he has grown a lot in his three years and matured up,” Dooley said. “He is as good a person and as well liked as anybody on campus. Both of them have been great representatives.”

Dooley told Carter and Fulks early in the year that the Wildcats were a young team and needed their leadership as the season went on. Dooley noted their leadership has been strong this season and said Fulks has matured a lot over his two years and his work ethic made a big impact on his season.

“Hopefully the things those younger guys will take from Jared is just his approach every day – not just showing up but working hard every day,” Dooley said.

Gregg Easter was Baker’s go-to man down the stretch and the freshman finished with a team-high 15 points. Fulks and Carter ended their Baker careers with games of 10 and 8 points, respectively. Gray scored 6 and passed out 3 assists. With a rowdy Avila crowd in his ears, freshman Daniel Young scored 5 points on 1-3 from the field and 3-5 at the stripe.

The Wildcats fell short of expectations this season. Baker started the season 7-5 then went on a nine-game skid to take them out of contention in the HAAC. Baker finished the season winning only two of its last 14 games.

Untimely injuries also eliminated many chances for Baker to win games. The team lost sophomore Tyrome Parker for the final 11 games, Young missed seven games in the middle of conference play, Gray missed four games with an injury, and Carter missed two pivotal games in the middle of the schedule.

Baker returns to the floor next November with young floor generals who received their training as freshmen this season with an injury infested team. Freshmen Brock Mick, Nate Guscott, CJ Bolton, Easter, and Young all ate away minutes as freshmen this season, which could prove to be invaluable come next year.