Griffs look to improve before conference play

By Canio Marasco

Sports Reporter

With their first conference games approaching, the Griffs men’s basketball team end their early non-conference play with a 3-4 record and several aspects of their game to improve.

Before Thanksgiving break, the Griffs hosted the UT Martin Skyhawks, who entered the game with a 5-1 overall record. The Griffs entered the game having just defeated Duquesne in a thriller and had recently played tough against Kentucky and Cleveland State. The Griffs started the game well against the Skyhawks, a trend that will become common. They led the Skyhawks 36-32 going into the half and seemed to be the more dangerous team. However, in the second half, the Griffs’ offense and their overall energy capitulated. The Skyhawks seemingly made every shot, shooting a staggering fifty-one percent from the field. The Griffs’ deflated offense was unable to keep-up with the shooting of the Skyhawks, despite a late rally, and they fell 72-69. Junior Jermaine Crumpton ended the game with an impressive seventeen points, extending his great play early in the season. Senior Phil Valenti ended the game with a team-leading twenty-one points.

Coach Reggie Witherspoon, on the loss to the Skyhawks, stated, “UT Martin is a good team and we knew that coming in…We’ve been able to play at a decent clip for a small frame of time. We haven’t been able to sustain it for a long period of time – and that’s what we have to work on. When the resistance comes from our opponents, we have to be strong enough to fight through that. Against UT Martin, we got a little impatient offensively and got out of rhythm a little bit.”

In the Griffs’ ensuing match-up, they hosted the Tennessee State Tigers, a team entering the game with a 5-0 record. The Tigers had just beaten Middle Tennessee, the team that upset Michigan State in the NCAA tournament last year. The Tigers had also received several votes for a place in the top-25 in the men’s basketball rankings. The ability of the Tigers became increasingly evident as the game waned. The Griffs started the game strong, as they seemingly always do. However, their early lead quickly evaporated as the Tigers poured on the offense. The Griffs entered the second half trailing 40-27, but the gap would only increase from there. The athleticism of the Tigers simply couldn’t be matched, as they easily coasted to a 72-58 victory.

“Tennessee State exposed our weaknesses. They were what we thought they were – tough and gritty, a veteran team that came in and exposed us a little bit in that regard,” Coach Witherspoon stated. “It’s good for us in the long run – even though it’s painful – because it’s an unavoidable confrontation that we need to be able to conquer.”

The Griffs most recent game was against the Youngstown State Penguins, who entered the game 4-3. The Griffs played their most technically sound game of the year against the Penguins. Not only did they shoot very well from the floor, but they also out-rebounded their opponent for the first time this season. The Griffs entered the half with a 41-35 lead, spurred on by a quick start and consistent shooting from the field. Unlike many other games this season, the Griffs maintained their energy and efficiency on offense in the second half. This was largely due to the Griffs’ work on the glass – they outscored the Penguins 22-15 on second chance points. They were able to preserve their halftime lead and win the game 90-84. Junior Kassius Robertson ended the game with a team-high twenty-seven points in his best performance of the season.

Coach Witherspoon, on the win, stated, “I think rebounding would be the most important reason we beat Youngstown State. That was the first game we out-rebounded our opponent. We need to get better at that. Did we shoot the ball better? Yes. We have been shooting better on the road. But we can’t let that be the sole source of what gives us a chance to succeed. It’s going to take a while for that mentality to be ingrained.”

In the early stages of the season, junior Jermaine Crumpton has exceeded all expectations. The forward has taken on a leadership role, being an upperclassman, and has become one of the Griffs’ key contributors on offense. Crumpton is averaging fifteen points per game and just under four rebounds per game. This is a significant improvement over his ten points per game last year, as he served as a key substitute off the bench.

On what has caused his success this season, Crumpton stated, “I just go into the games the same way I have the past two years here. I just try to stay aggressive – you know, taking that veteran leadership role and taking guys under my wing. I just want to stay aggressive and do anything I can to help my team win.”

Despite the efforts of Crumpton, the Griffs are still struggling in several key areas as the first conference games approach.

“I think we have to improve a couple things. We have to improve our effort in rebounding,” Coach Witherspoon said. “Secondly, we have to improve at sustaining a high level of play. We need to fight through the resistance of our opponents… This is always a challenge when you’re trying to improve your level of play.”

The problem that Coach Witherspoon seemed to be most concerned with was the Griffs’ rebounding this season. The Griffs are being out-rebounded 220-188 this season and are averaging about five less rebounds than their opponents per game. The importance of rebounding can’t be overlooked and is most evident in their win against the Penguins – the Griffs won largely due to their advantage in second chance points.

Coach Witherspoon was also worried about the Griffs’ inability to maintain offense and energy throughout the game. The Griffs have only been outscored by a total of five points in the first half this season. However, in the second half, this gap in scoring rises to thirty-two points, a significant difference and concerning problem.

The overwhelming positive in this situation is that the Griffs identified these issues early in the season. They can now fix their rebounding and scoring woes before conference play begins.

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