The Merychurst University Lakers’ (10-11, 8-9) late first-half run was too much for Rock men’s basketball (12-12, 8-10) to overcome, as SRU fell to the Lakers 81-72 Wednesday night.
“We broke down,” Rock head coach Kevin Reynolds said. “They hit two threes and two and-1’s, then we just couldn’t stop them in the second half.”
The Rock fought hard with the Lakers for majority of the half. There were eight lead changes within the first 15 minutes of the game. With 5:23 left, SRU held a 25-24 lead. The teams kept the game tight for two minutes until the remaining three minutes of the game.
Two free throws by the Lakers’ senior guard Durnell McDonald would tie the game at 30-30 with three minutes remaining. Those points contributed to McDonald’s 28 points on the night. His baskets would begin a three-minute 11-0 run by the Lakers to end the half.
SRU fought back in the second half, outscoring the Lakers and bringing the game to as close as a three-point deficit, but their comeback efforts would not be enough.
While it’s hard to say what The Rock was missing on the floor as they out-rebounded the Lakers 40-34 and only turned the ball over five times, the early presence of SRU’s lead scorer Naquil Jones was not there.
The senior guard had 23 points on the night after not checking in until almost seven minutes went by in the first half. Within seconds Jones drove to the basket to tie the game.
“He hasn’t been starting for the past few games,” Reynolds said. “It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. It’s something we are going to have to look into.”
Jones, who had rough outings in the later half of January, fell in the line-up out of his normal starting role. But, in the last three games, he has led The Rock in scoring. Jones shot 53.8 percent (7-13) from the field, and 90 percent (9-10) from the foul line against the Lakers.
Jones doesn’t know the reason for the lineup changes, but he doesn’t question the coach’s decisions.
“I’m not too sure why, but I’m still getting starting minutes,” Jones said.
Behind Jones in scoring was redshirt junior guard Merdic Green. Green had 21 points and eight rebounds, only one short of teammate and junior forward Christal Malalu, who also added 10 points.
Green, who has become one of The Rock’s most consistent players, said that in order for the team to get better, they need to start playing as a team.
“We got outplayed,” Green said. “We need to come together and play our game.”
For Mercyhurst, McDonald’s 28 points came off of a 61.5 percent (8-13) field goal outing and a perfect shooting performance from the free throw line, making 10-10 free throws. Redshirt junior Dajuan Dent fell behind with 12 points off of the Laker’s bench.
This loss knocks The Rock down to a .500 record and tied for fifth place with Seton Hill. With only four games left, Reynolds’ hopes of a home court advantage in the PSAC tournament won’t be easy to come by.
“We have a tough stretch ahead of us,” Reynolds said. “We’re half a game behind Mercyhurst, and we are tied with Seton Hill, but we have a win over them, so right now we have the split. It’s a tough scenario.”
Reynolds and The Rock have a break this weekend and did not have to play on Saturday. Reynolds said he wants to take advantage of that off-time to make the decisions he has to as a coach to get his team ready for their next contest.
SRU will head to Clarion University to take on the Golden Eagles on Wednesday, Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m.