The Slippery Rock University basketball team (2-1) is ready to win the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and qualify for the NCAA Tournament this season.
The Rock has a fairly new team this season, but there are multiple returning players, including junior guard Chris Hays, senior guard Antonio Butler, junior center Cornelius Brown, junior forward Jordan Grady, senior guard Abdul King, sophomore guard T.J. Jones, and junior forward Erik Raleigh. There are eight new players on the Rock’s roster, including Malcolm Richardson, Chaquille Pratt, Allen Jiles, Desma Nicholson, Kelvin Goodwin, John Johnson, Frank Holloway, T.J. Jones, and Jamal Gatali. All eight players are sophomores or a higher class-level.
Last season, six returning players appeared in multiple games. Butler played in 30 games (started in five), scored 226 points, and had 123 rebounds. Raleigh appeared in 29 games, scored 128 points, and had 102 rebounds. Brown played in 10 games (started in five), scored 21 points, and had 24 rebounds. Hays appeared in three games, scored 12 points, and had two rebounds. Grady played in 28 games, scored 55 points, and had 65 rebounds. King appeared in five games, scored 10 points, and had 11 rebounds.
The Green and White won their first two games of the season against the University of Charleston (Nov. 14) and Glenville State College (Nov. 15). In those two games, Butler, Pratt, Goodwin, Frank Holloway, Gatali were the starters.
However, SRU head coach Kevin Reynolds said the starting lineup is still wide open, and that besides Hays and Butler, leadership roles still need to be filled.
“Other than Antonio and Chris, I could see the third and fourth leader changing week by week or game by game,” Reynolds said.
Last season, the Rock finished with an overall record of 20-11, and lost to Gannon University 73-69 in the PSAC Championships. This season, Reynolds hopes his team will have a much longer season.
“We always have the same expectations that the other 17 teams in the league have, and that’s winning the conference championship and moving onto the NCAA’s,” Reynolds said. “Our ultimate goal is to get to the NCAA Tournament. We’d like to win the league to get there, but that’s our goal every year.”
Reynolds said SRU has been playing the same brand of basketball during the seven years he has been the head coach.
“The first thing we try to do is play good defense, and field goal percentage defense from the two and the three,” Reynolds said. “We want to be one of the top rebounding teams in the conference and in the country.”
He said his teams have always played unselfish team basketball.
“That’s been the staple of why we’ve been so good,” Reynolds said. “We’re not a star-studded program. Everybody has a role, and plays that role well. It could be anybody on any given night, and you can’t key in on one player.”
Both wins this season have been decided by less than four points. SRU defeated Charleston 65-62, and then they defeated Glenville 63-62. In both games, it was SRU’s defense that stepped up.
“Going in with as many new guys as we have, I’ve been really happy with the team’s play,” Reynolds said. “We’ve played as a team offensively and defensively. We’ve guarded the teams closely, and made them shoot a lower percentage then they would like.”
Reynolds said the team has shared the ball very well in the first two games, but they need to shoot it better.
SRU’s only loss on the season came from Gannon University on Wednesday in Erie, Pennsylvania. Gannon defeated SRU 64-51. Reynolds expected this game to be highly contested and hard-fought, and he was correct.
The Rock will play in their home opener on Saturday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. against the University of Pitt-Johnstown in Morrow Field House.