Owls win thriller over rival UNH, clinch post-season spot
Sam Tapper – Sports Reporter
In one of the biggest rivalry matchups in the NE10, two teams from the Elm City faced off in Moore Field House, with Southern sealing both a win and a playoff spot with a 73-67 victory over the University of New Haven.
Lack of energy; lack of toughness. Both things men’s basketball head coach Scott Burrell attributed to his team’s previous loss to Le Moyne on Saturday. However, the Owls played with both against UNH, which Burrell called the “game of the year.”
“They came back and proved me wrong,” Burrell said. “They came back and competed for each other, they knew it was a big rivalry game, we needed this W to stay in the hunt for third place in the conference, and they did.”
With the Blue Crew in attendance, the stands packed and screaming. The Owls used that momentum start to finish, something Burrell said played a key role in the victory.
“It might’ve been one of the best atmospheres since I’ve been here,” said Burrell. “It was loud, both teams’ fans were loud, and there was so much energy. I wish they were all like this.”
The Owls began the game neck-and-neck with the Chargers, as both teams traded baskets through the first eight minutes of play. They found themselves down 13-12 with 12 minutes remaining in the half. From there, the Owls sparked a quick 10-0 run, led by guard C.J. Seaforth, a junior, who finished with nine points, and forward Taurus Adams II, a senior, who tallied 19 points and eight rebounds at the end of his 34 minutes.
At that point, the Owls had a 22-13 lead – their largest of the half. It looked as if they were poised to take control of the game early, yet the Chargers battled back, taking a 27-26 lead after a 14-4 run of their own. After a three from Adams, the Owls took a 29-27 lead into the half.
In the second half, the Owls traded baskets with the Chargers the entire way. Ultimately, Southern was led by defense and the play of guard Lyron Bennett, a freshman, on offense.
Bennett scored a career-tying 22 points on the night, also grabbed six rebounds and dished out seven assists. He also helped seal the game by hitting back-to-back corner threes late in the second half, while also converting on a layup and getting fouled to put his team up four with 40 seconds remaining.
“My mid-range was falling, my body was just feeling good,” said Bennett. “I like playing in front of big crowds, so the atmosphere just got me going, I just had a good night overall.”
Bennett has scored just shy of 15 points per game over his last five games in addition to 5.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Bear in mind, Bennett is also a rookie who has been a consistent member of the starting lineup all season long. Wednesday night, Bennett put on a showcase, shooting 9-for-15 from the floor in a team high 36 minutes of play in his first game experiencing the Elm City rivalry at Moore Field House.
On the defensive end, the Owls were dominant by way of shot blocking and key stops down the stretch. As a team, they had a season-high seven total blocked shots. Three of those blocks came from forward Greg Jones, a junior, while another came from his frontcourt-mate Adams with five seconds left to seal the game for good.
“We came out ready to play. We came out and had the mentality to stop somebody. Stop your man,” Adams said. “We did that for the most part. We played hard.”
As a team, the Owls shot 28-of-61 from the floor, a slight upgrade from their 25-for-70 night against Le Moyne. The biggest difference, however, was three-point shooting, as the Owls followed up a 3-for-27 outing on Saturday with a 9-for-17 game from beyond the arch, led by Bennett with three.
“We shared the ball. Early everybody got a touch, everybody got comfortable,” said Burrell. “And when you share the ball, everybody’s happy, you get touches, and you get good shots and that’s what we did offensively.”
With this win, the Owls sweep the season series with the Chargers and improve to 14-10 and 9-8 in the conference, moving back ahead of New Haven, who falls to 9-9. There are still many games to play out before final seedings will be determined, however, the Owls know that with this win, they officially clinched a berth in the NE10 Conference Tournament.
Their final two games — Senior Day at home against Saint Rose this coming Saturday, then on the road at Adelphi on Feb. 25 — will have major implications on the tournament, as will games for the Chargers and the Setters of Pace going forward – both teams of which the Owls hold the tiebreaker.
“Our season hasn’t been great, but we need to finish up strong,” said Burrell. “To go into the tournament on a good note, a positive note, and try to get third place. Second’s a little out of our reach but third place is within our grasp and we’ve got to get it, we’ve got to take it. It’s not going to be given.”