Heading into the season, the men’s basketball senior night matchup against Pitt would probably be seen as Tech’s best chance of pulling off a conference win for its graduating seniors. Instead, it was the cherry on top of a sundae of a season that honored the hard work the seniors put in to make the season what it has become.
Six senior players were honored before Tuesday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Panthers: guard/forward Jodan Price, guard Josh Heath, forward Quinton Stephens, guard Corey Heyward, forward Kellen McCormick and forward Rand Rowland. Each player was presented with a framed jersey and flowers as they received a standing ovation from the crowd.
During the game, the seniors continued the success they had seen throughout the season. Stephens and Heath led the seniors in scoring, rebounding and assists with nine points, six rebounds and five assists as their respective highs. Additionally, Stephens led the team in playing time with 38 minutes; Heath was not far behind with 35 minutes on the court — both key figures while standout freshman guard Josh Okogie battled some foul trouble.
While the seniors are not necessarily the star scorers, their roles will not be easily replaced. Heath has been a master point guard this season, successfully dishing the ball out to the rest of the team: he currently leads the team in assists with 114 on the season. While he is not the most prolific scorer, he scores when the team most needs it, especially last night where he nailed two clutch three-pointers.
Stephens continued his quietly consistent season with yet another game that neither put him in the spotlight or in the dumps. If the Jackets have needed a rock throughout the season, Stephens has been there to make the clutch three, force the crucial turnover or dole out the perfect pass. He currently leads the team in three-pointers with 43 and is second on the team in rebounds, only behind prolific big man Ben Lammers, a junior. His consistency can also be seen in the fact that he has started and played in all 30 games this season.
If Stephens was ever to not show up, Corey Heyward would certainly step up in his place. Another player who has appeared in all 30 games this season, Heyward has been a rock on the defensive end of the court. The son of a late NFL player, Heyward brings an approach to the court that is as tough-nosed as it is cerebral. When Tech has found itself with difficult match-ups, particularly against bigger athletes, Heyward has consistently competed.
Finally, there are the three role players in Price, McCormick and Rowland. While each may not have the most obvious contributions to the team, their input is specifically needed. For Price and McCormick, that means being able to come off the bench when starters are in foul trouble or need rest. Price’s lack of minutes were less an indictment of his talent than they were a statement of that around him.
Rowland is a different story; the walk-on joined the team knowing he would most likely never see the most playing time. But the energy and leadership he brings to the team has been exceptional. His off the court work landed him a spot on the Allstate National Association of Basketball Coaches Good Works Team.
With the game nearing the final buzzer, Tech was able to secure the ball and call a timeout. This allowed Coach Pastner to put Price, McCormick and Rowland into the game for the final six seconds, meaning that every senior took the court last night. It was the icing on the proverbial cake that was a win on senior night.
Last year’s senior class was outstanding. Guard Marcus Georges-Hunt is battling for a spot in the NBA, and other key contributors graduated. However, this year’s group is impressive in its own right. They will be remembered as Josh Pastner’s first seniors. Should they keep winning, they will be remembered as much more.