The men’s basketball team (3-4) gained momentum at home over the weekend, winning the championship of the Barclays Center Classic with a dramatic 81-79 victory over Mississippi Valley State University Delta Devils and a convincing 76-61 win over North Carolina A&T Aggies. Juniors Dion Jones and Andrew Nicholas were co-MVP’s of the tournament.
The Hawks were up 79-75 after a driving layup from Jones with 29 seconds to go, but the Devils’ James Currington was able to score quickly to close the gap to two. After two missed MU free throws, by sophomore Christian White, the Devils were able to find Currington again for the game tying lay in with six seconds remaining. After a timeout from the Hawks, Jones took it upon himself to go coast to coast, weaving through all MVSU defenders, and finished with an acrobatic layup as the buzzer sounded to give the Hawks their second victory of the young season.
“It was just a great feeling,” said Jones. “All my teammates came up to me and it was just awesome.”
In the first half of the game against MVSU, the Hawks looked to still be reeling from their previous losses shooting 9-22 from the field and 2-7 from deep and went in to half trailing by eight. “It was hard matching up with what they were doing,” said head coach King Rice.
To begin the second half, the Devils built a 13 point lead with 16:00 left in the game. The momentum of the game did not start to sway in MU’s favor until junior Andrew Nicholas got hot from long distance. In a three minute span, Nicholas netted four three’s.
The Hawks went off on a 17-4 run to tie the game and took their first lead of the game on a three pointer from junior Max Dileo. In the second half, MU shot 58 percent from the field and only missed one of their seven attempts from three point range.
“They outplayed us for most of that game,” Rice continued. “I’m so proud of our guys because we didn’t play our best game today. But the thing that we showed is that we fight.”
Nicholas was the leading scorer for the Hawks on the night finishing with a career high 31 points on 12-23 shooting and 5-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Jones finished with his fourth 20 point game of the season in a 24 point effort. The Hawk’s freshmen also continued to impress as Justin Robinson had six assists, a career best, and Josh James had 14 points on 5-7 shooting.
The Hawks got off to another slow start against the North Carolina A&T Aggies, trailing for most of the first half. The Hawks then received a surge of energy and cut the deficit to 39-33 as they started to settle into the game.
MU kept their stamina up as they went on a 23-2 run over a six minute span to take a 15 point lead over the Aggies. The Hawks secured their win when Dileo scored seven straight points to give the Hawks a 69-53 lead with four minutes left.
Against the Aggies, Jones tied a MU record with 18 made free throws in route to his 27 point performance. Nicholas contributed another strong performance and added 19 points.
The Hawks also shot a season best 84 percent from the line. MU’s defense was swarming all day as they forced 22 Aggie turnovers and held the Aggies to just 35 percent shooting for the game.
“We were on the road for three games and lost them, but we came back home and protected our home court. It’s important to us that we protect our home court,” Rice said of the weekend. “This tournament gets that terrible losing feeling out of you. All of the players come from winning programs and they’re hungry to win. So we’re just going to try to build on it and we’re using each game as a learning experience.”
The duo of Nicholas and Jones scored 101 points and had 20 rebounds in the two games over the weekend to lead the Hawks to their first winning streak of the season.
“They are high level scorers,” said Rice of the two athletes. “When they score like this, the young guys can relax and just play and not feel like they have to win the game for us, and they shouldn’t have to feel that way.”
The Hawks will look to keep their winning streak alive when they host the Rider University Broncs on Dec. 5 at 7:00 p.m. in the Multipurpose Activity Center. The game will be broadcasted by ESPN.
PHOTO COURTESY of Jim Reme