Men’s basketball readies for MAACtion

By Adam Duke

Sports Reporter

This weekend, the Griffs will travel to Manhattan College and Monmouth University to take on the Jaspers and the Hawks to begin Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play for the 2016-2017 campaign.

Coming off of a 90-84 win from the Thanksgiving weekend at Youngstown State, the Griffs will look to continue their winning streak tonight against Manhattan.

“I told the team before the game, Youngstown State is going to be a huge win going into MAAC play. Everybody’s really hyped up,” said junior Kassius Robertson. “For a lot of guys, it’s their first conference game of their career, so they’re definitely going to see the difference in intensity and the excitement.”

Last season, the 8-12 Griffs finished seventh in the MAAC, one position behind the sixth place 9-11 Jaspers. Head-to-head, the Griffs split matchups with the Jaspers, losing the first contest 86-94 on the road and winning the second 65-62 at home. In those meetings, Phil Valenti led with a total of 54 points.

Robertson also discussed how Manhattan has a strong defense. He remarked how it is always tough playing there and how they have a tough defensive team. Despite the fact that the Jaspers graduated a few good players, such as forward Shane Richards, they still have a solid defense that the Griffs have to prepare for.

Coach Reggie Witherspoon commented on the matchup, saying how they are a team that puts in a lot of effort and plays very hard. He noted that they are beatable, but the Griffs must play harder in the game. He also asserted that the team must be improve their endurance through both halves and keep their stamina up.

“From most of what we’ve seen from them so far, we have to be able to stay in front of the basketball and keep them from driving to the basket,” said Witherspoon. “Keep them from getting angles to drive it, keep them off the offensive glass. Keep them out of the lane, keep the basketball out of the lane and make them shoot contested threes.”

Sunday, the Griffs travel to West Long Branch, New Jersey to face off with the Hawks. Last year, they split with Monmouth as well, handing the Hawks one of only three losses on the season. In the season opener, the Golden Griffins were victorious at home, winning 96-86, but fell to the Hawks a month later, 66-81. Malcolm McMillan led with 35 total points and Jermaine “Crump” Crumpton led all active Griffs players with 25.

“We’re going to try to do what we did last year, steal the first one, make it tough,” stated Robertson. “It would be beautiful to start 2-0 in conference play.”

Robertson continued, elaborating that Monmouth should be treated as any other conference opponent, and that regardless of the ninth place ranking they received, the Griffs have a good team that can compete with the reigning regular season MAAC champions.

Witherspoon also attested to the work his team will need to put in to defeat the Hawks. Having the challenge of playing both teams in one weekend, he made a comparison between the Hawks and the Jaspers, saying how they both have a point guard that can move the ball where they want and dictate the play by the way they penetrate the defense with quickness. This week, they prepared for both teams’ guards defensively and deemed the number one ranked Hawks “a big- time challenge.”

Entering MAAC play after their seventh game together, the Griffs have been able to build a chemistry with their new talent, as seven out of 14 players on the team began playing for the blue and gold this year.

“Off the court, on the court, we’re all really good friends. It’s been kind of crazy because we’ve had, like, seven new guys. We’ve gotten to know seven new different personalities, seven new players,” said  Robertson. “But it’s been really good, it’s been really quick. We just need to keep it together on the court and I think we’ll be great.”

Witherspoon also commented on the development of chemistry, saying that there are still some things the team could work on regarding their performance on the court. He said that some players are still learning the new personnel and that they are working through getting that down and creating a rotation that allows them to know their strategy for substitutions and better allow players to know when they are to go into and come out of games. He attributed that the best way to learn the new system is through experience.

“We’re working our way through that,” said the coach. “That only comes from playing games.”

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