PAT LONGOBARDI — Sports Writer
Coming into the season, the SCSU men’s basketball team wanted to upgrade their guard position, especially at the point guard.
The Owls brought in many new freshmen guards that were told that they would compete for minutes this season.
Tylon Smith emerged late in the season as the leading point guard for the Owls, and he was one of the top rookies in the Northeast-10 Conference this season.
Smith was also selected to the All-Rookie Team among the Northeast-10 Conference at the end of the regular season.
“It was an honor and a blessing,” Smith said. “I want to thank my family, my teammates and the coaches. Without them this would not be possible.”
“I felt like in the first half, I was still getting used to things and just college in general. When I was starting point guard, I wanted to be more competitive with the ball in my hands and I wanted to create for my teammates.”
Smith, a 6-foot-2 guard from Manchester, Conn., averaged 9.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game in the regular season for Southern.
Smith played at Kingswood-Oxford High School and led his team to the 2011 New England Prep School Men’s Basketball Association Class B Championship.
The Owls would go on to win their last four regular season games and six of their last seven to earn a No. 5-seed in the conference tournament with Smith helping lead the way.
“Tylon was our first commit in the recruiting process,” SCSU men’s basketball head coach Michael Donnelly, now in his second season, said. “We offered him a scholarship last summer when we saw him in AAU. He committed to us in January during the spring signing period. He know\s how to win. We wanted to stabilize the program.”
“He had a slow start. We tried to find the best way to try to mix him in with the other guys. Once he got the ball in his hands, he didn’t turn back. I think he will be one of the best point guards in the league as a sophomore. He will continue to lead us on the court and the best is yet to come.”
Smith said his expectation going forward is to improve his game, which is exactly what he did in spots this season.
“As a freshman, we had known coming in that we were going to play a lot of minutes which was great,” he said. “We [freshmen] held ourselves responsible every time on the floor. Usually you sit your first year as a freshman.”
“I want to be a better leader and a better point guard. I want to play more like we did in the second half of the season.”
“We [the team] decided in the second half to play right way [with the streak]. We found it in ourselves and hopefully we can carry that into next season.”
The Owls finished the 2011-12 season 14-13 overall and in fifth place in the Northeast-10 Conference (12-10). The Owls had their first winning season since the 2002 and their highest finish (fifth place) since joining the league in 2000.
Smith ended the season playing in 27 games while starting 21. He averaged 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in 30.6 minutes. He also tied for the team-high with 41 steals and had a team-high 78 assists.
Smith scored a career-high 25 points during a loss in the quarterfinals of the Northeast-10 Conference Tournament to UMass-Lowell.
Smith has really grown to earn a lot of respect with the team in his first season.
“What helped best for us was to figure out how to use the guys the best way and combinations on the floor,” Donnelly said. “We started Kyle [Callanan] off of the ball. Both of them [Smith and Callanan] were point guards. Putting the ball in Kyle’s hands to start early on would be the best bet.”
“We needed that leadership and presence with the ball and Tylon provided that right away. It was not a coincidence that we played our best basketball in the second semester, and Tylon played his best basketball in the second semester.”