Byrd leads 55-point effort from MC bench
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (email@example.com)
North Carolina Wesleyan brought a big tough F-150, the Scots a Mustang, but all the extra hands pumping gas proved the difference as the Chris Fords canceled each other out in Maryville’s 86-72 win over Wesleyan Sunday afternoon in the Cooper Athletic Center.
While the Bishops’ Chris Ford — the post built like a defensive end — put in six of his 15 to start the USA South affair, MC’s Christian Ford — the narrower, quicker and unflappable point guard — put in six of his 15 on two huge 3-pointers directly in front of the ever-rowdy student section in the final minutes to secure the Scots’ first USAC victory.
“I didn’t recognize it until this morning looking at the scouting report that we had the same name. I don’t know if anybody else did,” Maryville’s Ford said, though he admittedly broke into a grin when his nomenclature doppelganger was announced re-entering the game in the same breath as the identification of the MC sophomore as the shooter at the foul line. “It was a little inside joke the team made up during practice.”
Christian Ford got the better of the exchange, finishing one rebound back with six in comparison and handing out a game-high eight assists. But with the Fords’ performance ratings nearly equal on the scoreboard — MC’s 55 points off the bench trumped a 33-point effort from the Battling Bishops’ Brandon Givens.
“I don’t know that we really have a second team. I try to start some experience, but I have the luxury right now of going through the first half and seeing who is effective and letting that dictates more how I substitute the second half,” MC veteran coach Randy Lambert said after win No. 605. “We felt going into the season that our numbers were our strength, and they’re starting to play a little bit.”
Wesleyan (7-1, 0-1 USAC) started strong, but early substitutions by the Scots (4-3, 1-1) kept NCW from expanding a four-point lead. Jose Agosto came off the bench and stroked in his first two treys. Tanner Torres and Spencer Shoffner joined in on the barrage as the reserves hit 7-of-13 3-pointers before the buzzer to push Maryville to a 47-37 lead at half.
Jaumonee Byrd was key on the glass with six Scots grabbing five or more rebounds to win the rebound battle 48-39 and give MC an 11-point edge in second-chance points. The freshman forward put in a team-high 18 to record his second double-digit scoring effort as a Scot in as many games.
“Coach told the bigs we really needed to rebound and defend. That’s what we came out to do,” Byrd told The Daily Times. “We have a lot of freshmen like me, but we’re starting to learn and pick up on things that coach is telling us. Everything’s starting to roll a lot more smoothly now.”
The Bishops didn’t go quietly and followed Givens as the transfer senior scored nine as part of a 11-2 run to give Wesleyan a 62-60 lead with 10:06 to play.
“He was obviously statistically great and made some big shots for us, but I thought we got a little stagnant offensively looking at him and waiting for him to win it for us,” Bishops coach John Thompson said. “I just thought we got outplayed.”
Agosto put in the last of his dozen to tie the game, and back-to-back rebound and put-back buckets from Byrd put Maryville in front to stay at 66-64. Ford’s big 3’s pushed the lead to seven, and the Scots made good at the foul line down the stretch.
“I love the way Jaumonee Byrd played today. He battled some pretty tough opponents and he was getting above them,” Lambert said. “Craig Raye gave us a big lift. We experimented with him some this week playing the 3 and the 4 positions just to get him more time on the floor. I thought that was a difference in the game.”
The Scots have this week for finals before a trip to LaGrange, who also made the GSAC-to-USAC jump this season, and a reunion with former assistant coach Kendal Wallace, now in his second year as head coach of the Panthers. Lambert is hoping that the team LaGrange (5-1) saw two weeks ago, when both squads played in the Oglethorpe Thanksgiving tournament, has grown up since that 0-2 weekend.
“That was one of, if not the most, embarrassing moments of my life as a coach,” Lambert said of the Atlanta trip. “Our team looked like they hadn’t been coached. I took it very serious. We’ve worked very hard since then, and the players have responded. We’re getting much better ball movement, and hopefully they’re still listening, and we’re continuing to improve.”