Despite losing to Division I Southern Mississippi, 77-65, in exhibition action on Tuesday night at Reed Green Coliseum, the Slippery Rock men’s basketball team gained valuable experience that will carry over into the regular season that kicks off in two weeks.
The Green and White trailed the hosts by only six points, 35-29, at the half and cut a 19-point deficit with a 9-0 run in the final two minutes of the game to give the Division I team some work.
Southern Mississippi returned four starters to a team predicted to make some noise in Conference USA this season.
“It’s a great opportunity to play a team of that caliber,” head coach Kevin Reynolds said. “We have a lot to build on from the game. There were some positives, but also some negatives that we need to improve on during the next few weeks.”
SRU equally battled with Southern Miss in rebounds, 33-33. Junior Abdul King, a transfer from Kutztown University, led the rebounding effort for the visitors with four boards.
Leading the scoring attack for the Rock was junior guard Matej Delinac, with 16 points in his first game with the team. Delinac is a transfer from Marshalltown Community College in Iowa.
Senior Maurice Lewis-Briggs, a transfer from Morehead State, added 14 points for the Rock.
Senior Josh Martin, a transfer from Bridgeport, and junior Antonio Butler, a transfer from Garrett College, each chipped in eight points apiece.
The Green and White is picked to finish third in the PSAC-West in preseason poll released on Tuesday after their second PSAC runner-up finish and NCAA playoff appearance in the last three years.
IUP received seven first-place votes to earn to the top spot in the conference. Gannon earned the second seed spot with one first-place vote. SRU received the other first-place nod.
California, Pitt-Johnstown, Mercyhurst, Seton Hill, Edinboro, and Clarion followed Slippery Rock, in that order.
“It’s going to be the hardest year of Slippery Rock basketball in history, in a division of nine, with the addition of Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill to the conference,” Reynolds said. “To be picked third says a lot about former players, current player, former coaches, and current coaches in our program.”
Slippery Rock brought a lot of new talent to the team this year in the form of eight transfers and one true freshman.
“We brought in a lot of new players this season. We’re just trying to mix and match them right now with old players and new players and see who works well together,” Reynolds said.
The Rock will travel to the Petersen Events Center tonight to take on the Division I Pittsburgh Panthers, a team that made the NCAA March Madness tournament last season.
Pittsburgh returns three starters from last season’s 24-9 team that finished fourth in Big East Conference competition.
“We’re excited for the game (Friday), but we also know it’s going to be an even bigger challenge than Tuesday night,” Reynolds said of the Pitt exhibition game.
SRU officially tips off the season on Nov. 9 against Charleston in the Clarion Hotel Conference Challenge at Shepherd University in West Virginia.
The Rock’s home opener is Nov. 14 against Ohio Valley University in Morrow Field House.