The Slippery Rock men’s basketball team stormed back from a nine-point deficit at halftime to beat the Millersville University Marauders.
“We just needed to play harder,” head coach Kevin Reynolds said on the halftime deficit. “It sounds cliche, but our motto going into the game was ‘play hard and be tough.’ What we really emphasized at the half was that we weren’t playing hard or tough, and those are two of the biggest things going for us.”
Reynolds emphasized how the players made adjustments to come back in the second half.
“We have good conditioned and tough guys, and they realized at the half that wasn’t the type of team we have. In the first half, they were extremely disappointed, just didn’t have the energy or the effort that we have usually had in the last three weeks. We’re getting better because of guys making that adjustment at the half. It’s as good a second half as we’ve played since I’ve been here.”
The Green and White were led by senior guard Naquil Jones, who scored a career-high 24 points with the help of three 3-point field goals and a perfect seven for seven at the free throw line. Jones played all 40 minutes of the game and added nine assists with only one turnover to lead The Rock to an improved 6-4 record.
Reynolds had high praise for the senior from Philadelphia.
“It wasn’t just him tonight, obviously he had a big game with 24 (points) and seven (rebounds). Nine assists with only one turnover, he’s just been playing great. I’m extremely proud of him, he has been playing hard and being a leader, all those types of things.”
Reynolds also talked about how everybody played a part in the win.
“It was a team effort tonight. They only scored 17 in the second half, that’s as good a defensive effort as we have put on the floor in a long time. We are extremely happy with how we played today.”
Junior Christal Malalu turned in a double-double with 10 points and a dominating 17 rebounds, helping The Rock out-rebound Millersville 50-24, more than doubling the rebounding margin.
“We look at him as one of the better big men in the league, go rebound the ball with two hands. He plays hard and he’s a good communicator,” Reynolds had to say about the Netherlands native. “He had a double-double in 29 minutes, so I’m really happy with how Christal has been playing. He has been practicing well, our team has been practicing well. We have been playing better because we’re practicing at a good rate.”
Junior Khyree Wooten played 39 of the 40 minutes, scoring seven points while doing so. The other starters were junior Merdic Green, who added six points and a block, and junior Vinny Lasley, who had five points and two blocks in 17 minutes played.
Millersville had the highest three-point shooting percentage in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), but also held the worst rebounding margin in the conference, a complete opposite of Slippery Rock.
“A lot of teams are different than how we play, we get used to it,” commented Reynolds on how his team handles the differences. “We go over a lot of things in practice and have drill work in practice. A lot of teaching and learning. Once game time comes, it’s up to the players.”
Reynolds continued to emphasize how much the players have contributed to the team’s success this year. “Once Friday night hits for a Saturday game, the hay is in the barn so to speak. It was a team effort and the guys played great together.”
Bench points were another reason The Rock dominated so much in the second half, with 21 points to Millersville’s seven. Leading the charge was senior Jordan Marrow who had 11 points and a steal in only 19 minutes. A pair of juniors, Guilherme Verardo and Amir Maddred, rounded out the scoring for Slippery Rock, with six and four points, respectively.
The Rock’s defense was able to shut down the most prolific scorer in the PSAC, Millersville’s Marcus Adkison, who was averaging over 20 points a game and was here held to only five.
“The guys did a good job. Scheme is only part of it, it’s the effort that we are really happy with.” Reynolds had high praise for his team’s defensive lock-down in the second half. “Merdic and Marrow were on him for the most part, they have been two of our better defenders. We held him to four baskets and 15 percent shooting in the second half, it was a great team defensive effort.”
Saturday’s game was the last of the semester for Slippery Rock, who plays next at Roberts Wesleyan college on Dec. 18.