SHEPHERDSTOWN — Finding useful depth can give a college basketball team a winning season. Balance. Production coming from every corner. Some downtrodden teams would just like to find five useful starters. Depth would be a luxury for them.
In its fast-paced, 102-97, win over nationally ranked Bowie State on Saturday at its mostly-filled Butcher Center, Shepherd just might have uncovered at least eight players who could potentially be reliable enough to give it a winning season for the first time in too many years.
With first-year starters Austin Cunningham and Morgan McDonald forcing last year’s starting point guard Marcus Pilgrim and part-time starter Aeron Spencer to come off the bench this season, the Rams already had two ingredients for a useful “depth stew”.
Against the timber-tall Bulldogs, the Rams added forwards Kevin Jones and Malik Dauda to their list of potential difference makers.
Bowie State had a starting lineup that featured a pair of 6-foot-4 guards and three front-court players that were all 6-foot-8.
With Shepherd aiming a pressure defense at the Bulldogs, the game’s tempo was fast and constantly moving from end-to-end. Depth helped the Rams establish an early lead that was held through the first half.
Brantley Osborne had 13 of his 22 points by the half. Chad Moore already had measured 14 of his game-high 31 points. Shepherd made 7-of-9 free throws in getting on to a 49-40 lead.
Bowie State had gotten 15 first-half points from always-shooting Bryon Westmorland, who was 4-of-11 from the floor. The Bulldogs stayed because they made 13-of-16 free throws.
Foul troubles bit both teams in the second half.
By the 14-minute mark of the half, both teams had reached the bonus at the free throw line.
With several players brought to the sidelines with three fouls, Shepherd’s depth became more and more important.
Bowie State’s height didn’t lead it to many rebounds. Only 5:35 remained when the Bulldogs got their first offensive rebound of the second half.
The teams traded baskets, free throws, and personal fouls through much of the last half.
Shepherd stayed ahead. In the last two minutes-plus it extended a four-point lead to eight on two Moore field goals that gave him the last of his 31 points.
Abetting Moore and Osborne were the free throw shooting of Cunningham (9-of-10), McDonald’s 12 points, the 10 points from Pilgrim, and Spencer’s seven points.
Shepherd converted 24 of its 35 free throws and outrebounded the taller Bulldogs by four.
The depth was necessary to win the season opener. It will be necessary to win more than they lose for the purposeful Rams.