Sophomores Gani Lawal and Maurice Miller each posted double-doubles in the first game of the men’s basketball season, leading Tech to a 92-47 victory over Winston-Salem State at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on Friday night.
“Obviously, it’s a great way for our guys to start off the year. In the second half, on defense in particular, I thought we were really good,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.
Tech struggled at the start of the game, allowing the Rams to keep pace for the first five minutes before opening up a lead.
“We wanted to make an effort to get the ball inside early, and we did not do that, and that’s why we were trading baskets and jumpers,” Hewitt said.
Miller and freshman guard Iman Shumpert began finding Lawal in the low post, and the sophomore forward led the Jackets on a 13-0 run that put them up 17-4. Lawal’s post dominance led to a spectacular first-half performance, as he went seven-for-seven from the field and led the team with 18 points, nine rebounds and a block to carry Tech to a 49-29 lead at halftime.
“[The improved post play] just comes from working hard over the summer. Coach Hewitt and all the assistant coaches worked hard with me, so I’m just trying to suck up everything they tell me and apply it to in-game situations,” Lawal said.
“He’s really taking good care of himself this year…As long as he stays hydrated and he’s taking care of his body, he’s a dynamic athlete and he’s going to do great things,” Hewitt said.
Contrasting Lawal’s strong performance, however, were the early struggles of Miller and junior forward Zach Peacock. Peacock had five points but also three turnovers and two personal fouls. Miller, the starting point guard, was zero-for-five on field goal attempts in the first half and completed only half of his 10 free throw tries. He did, however, collect five rebounds and six assists.
“I kept telling him, ‘Look, I don’t care if you’re playing well or not, I just need you to make smart plays and run the team until you find your own game.’ In the second half he found his game and ran the team well,” Hewitt said.
Miller’s improved play in the second half propelled the Jackets to an even better performance than they had in the first, especially on defense. Winston-Salem State’s shooting percentage dropped to 18 percent in the second half as Tech outscored the Rams 43-18. At the end of the game, no Ram player who took at least three shots had a shooting percentage over .400.
Although Lawal did not score in the second half, the rest of the team made up for it. Miller went five-for-eight from the field and finished with 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, while Peacock limited his mistakes and posted two rebounds and two blocks to go with his 14 points.
The stat that the team focused on most was its 13 turnovers. Hewitt had set a team goal of 12 or fewer turnovers, and both he and Miller expressed slight frustration at the near-miss.
Tech received a slight scare when Shumpert, a McDonald’s All-American and the team’s lone recruit for 2008-09, limped off the court early in the second half and went to the locker room with what turned out to be a leg cramp. He returned to the bench before long, but did not play the rest of the way as a precaution.
Shumpert has a history of cramping up frequently, and so the team did not want to risk further problems by sending him out again.
“It’s been an issue from back when he was in high school, and it’s worse here, because obviously the games and practices are more intense, so it’s something we’ve got to look into,” Hewitt said.
As a result of Shumpert’s departure, sophomore guard Lance Storrs received 29 minutes of playing time. Storrs, who struggled in the exhibition against LeMoyne College last week with no points and four personal fouls, scored 14 points and had four rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore center Brad Sheehan was the last Tech player in double figures, with 10 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes. Jamal Durham led the Rams with 11 points.
The Jackets will travel to Macon on Saturday to take on the Mercer Bears before returning home for a six-game homestand over the next four weeks, which starts with Akansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday night.