The Baker Orange

Men’s basketball team opens with two wins

Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

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The men’s basketball team opened up its 2015-16 season with two wins, one on the road at Ottawa 82-74 on Saturday and the other at home 70-69 on Wednesday against Kansas Wesleyan. After winning only nine games last season, the Wildcats are showing signs of improvement.

Baker’s offense scoring 82 points in the first game may have had two main causes. First, the shot clock in men’s college basketball has dropped from 35 seconds to 30 seconds, allowing for more scoring chances. Second, the Wildcats have changed tempo and style.

Baker made the decision this offseason to play fast, not quite as fast as “The Guru of Go” Paul Westhead’s 122 points per game at Loyola Marymount in 1990, but head coach Sean Dooley was looking for a change. The Wildcats will take this fast-paced style into a conference that already features two teams that do the same in Avila and Culver-Stockton.

The Wildcats used five returners in the starting lineup on opening night: senior Manny Barnes, junior Javeion Gray and sophomores Nate Guscott, Dan Young and Gregg Easter. Young scored all nine of his points in the first half.

Baker only shot 32 percent from the field in the first half against Ottawa, but the Wildcats knocked down 10 of 11 free throws in the first half. Baker led at the half 35-33.

The Wildcats trailed only once in the second half, knocked down their free throws and held on for the 82-74 win. This is Baker’s second consecutive opening-game victory.

Freshman Clae Martin started his Baker career with a great performance. Martin scored a team-high 14 points and knocked down four trifectas. Junior transfer Taylor Johnson was also great in his first Baker game. Johnson scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and went 4-for-4 at the free-throw line.

Junior Tyrome Parker returned after a season-ending injury last season and scored 11 points. Senior Nick Wilson scored 12 points off the bench.

2013-14 Heart Freshman of the Year Javeion Gray scored nine points, dished out two assists and grabbed eight rebounds. Gray did turn the ball over nine times, though.

In the home opener against Kansas Wesleyan, Baker got off to a hot start, leading 14-2 to start. But 14 turnovers let the Coyotes back into the game, and KWU regained the lead late in the first half to take a 37-31 lead into the break.

The second half was back-and-forth for nearly the entire 20 minutes. Baker would cut the lead to two points and then Kansas Wesleyan would go on a run and lead by seven.

Baker took its first lead of the second half with 2:20 to go when Martin knocked down a three ball early in the shot clock. Baker forced a turnover and on the very next possession the shot clock was winding down with the ball in Gray’s hands.

With the clock at five seconds, Gray was trapped into the corner in front of the Baker bench. Gray couldn’t get off a shot so he handed it off to the 6-7 Daniel Young. Young was behind the arc and didn’t hesitate to shoot and knock down the huge trifecta. Young took one three last season and is now 1-for-2 in his career from deep. Baker led 70-66.

After three Kansas Wesleyan free throws, Baker was in control. The Wildcats had the ball with a nine second differential between the shot and game clock. Wesleyan didn’t foul and Baker could not get a shot off and turned the ball over to the Coyotes with eight seconds to play and only a one-point lead.

KWU took the ball from its own baseline, drove to Baker’s end of the floor and had two chances to win but missed them both and Baker held on for the victory.

The men won their first two games of the season for the first time in four years.

Gray paved the way with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Young scored 12 points in 24 minutes of playing time. Martin also hit four threes for 9 points for the freshman from Australia.

The men take the weekend off and then turn around to take on Ottawa for the second time at 7 p.m. on Nov. 10 inside the Collins Center. Now the Braves have an exhibition under their belts after losing 117-58 to the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats in the famous Rupp Arena.