SU men fall to Emory & Henry 66-56
WINCHESTER — Sharif Almulla believes it is only a matter of time before Shenandoah University’s young men’s basketball team gets things turned around.
One of a group of 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Almulla certainly has done enough with his shooting to give the Hornets a chance. Looking to free-up off the wings or baselines, Almulla has showed a shooter’s confidence, making 40.6 percent (37 of 91) of his 3-point shots on the season.
Almulla made 4 of 9 3-pointers on Saturday and scored a team-best 12 points, but SU let an eight-point lead in the second half slip away and lost 66-56 to Emory & Henry in an Old Dominion Athletic Conference game before 352 fans at Shingleton Gymnasium.
The loss was the eighth straight for the Hornets (3-12, 0-6) and dropped them into a tie for last place in the ODAC with Roanoke.
The effort against the equally-struggling Wasps (3-9, 1-4) was commendable for an SU team that has found competing in the ODAC a tough chore to handle. The losses in conference play (four have come by at least 27 points) have been tough to endure, but at least the effort against Emory & Henry gave SU some hope for the future.
“We’re improving, and I think that is the most important thing because we have a foundation built,” said Almulla, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard after his sixth game in double-digit scoring. “We’re just working to get better each and every day, and I think we’re improving a whole lot more.”
The Hornets, who led at the half for the first time since Nov. 28 (when they last won, at Marymount), used their bench well (25 points), and got on a roll early in the second half with good perimeter shooting to build their biggest lead of the game (37-29) on a Almulla 3-pointer with 15:17 left.
But a nearly six-minute scoring drought stymied SU, and Emory & Henry reeled off 15 straight points to take control of the game.
The Hornets continued to put up a good fight, but the strong inside play of the Wasps allowed SU to get no closer than four points in the final minutes.
Shenandoah coach Rob Pryor saw areas of improvement with his squad and was especially pleased with ball distribution (15 assists off 21 made baskets) and 3-point shooting (the Hornets shot 35.7 percent, making 10 of 28). But Pryor also felt missed opportunities down the stretch became too much to overcome in an effort to break the losing skid.
“We missed 11 layups, and when you miss 11 layups and miss eight free throws (SU shot 4 of 12), it’s tough to win,” Pryor said.
Since Emory & Henry tried to seal off the lane, the Hornets, who still got decent dribble penetration, opted to rely on the 3-point shot a little more than usual. An 11-4 run to start the second half that saw Almulla knock down a pair of treys and sophomore Eli McEathron make another, gave SU its eight-point lead. Continuing to take what was given, SU kept shooting 3s and ended with a close balance of shot attempts (it was 11 of 27 on two-point shots) for the game.
Their 28 attempts from 3-point land was a season-high for the Hornets, and the 10 made tied a season-best.
“I didn’t have a huge problem with the 3s we took because they were off drives-and-kicks,” Pryor said. “Emory & Henry was helping in the paint and the 3s we got were wide open. You know, almost 36 percent [accuracy], I’ll take that.”
The Hornets fell behind 10-5 less than five minutes into the game and did not take their first lead until reserve guard Dante Serale scored off a baseline drive and-one for a 16-14 lead with 9:57 left in the first half. SU enjoyed a couple of five-point leads — 21-16 after McEathron scored off an outlet, and 26-21 after McEathron buried an open 3-pointer from the right wing when his defender slipped in front of him — to carry some momentum into halftime.
SU led 26-25 at the break, with McEathron, a Skyline High School graduate, leading nine players in scoring with five points. McEathron would tie his career-best with eight points in the loss and the 16 minutes he played was his second-highest of the season.
The Hornets were in good shape early in the second half and seemed to be in control after Emory & Henry went through a four-minute stretch where it had four straight turnovers and made just one out of six shots from the field. But once the shots stopped falling for SU, the Wasps made their move.
A 3-pointer from junior guard Stephen Brown got Emory & Henry off and running, and another three from sophomore guard Tyler Driver put the Wasps ahead 39-37 with 12:21 left. The 15-0 run was capped by strong moves to the basket by junior forward Jorel Terrell and senior forward Armando Murrell, who would make two huge baskets late to help Emory & Henry pull it out.
The basket by Murrell with 9:59 left had the Wasps up 44-37, leaving SU to play catchup the rest of the way.
Whenever it seemed like the Hornets were on the verge of taking the lead back, the Wasps got a big basket or free throw to counter.
In gaining its first road win in almost a year (57-48 at Bridgewater last Jan. 28), Emory & Henry off-set its turnover issues (20) by getting lots of balance (four players reached double-digit scoring), holding a plus-19 in rebounding, and finding the right shooters down the stretch to get its first ODAC win of the year.
“We place a lot of emphasis on being a good teammate, and how does that translate into a comeback,” Emory & Henry coach Paul Russo said. “To not get discouraged, to not drop your head when the other team goes on a run, because that really takes away from what we’re trying to do collectively. I thought our guys were great teammates tonight.
“I told our guys to stay the course and not have any lapses in [their] effort, and that’s what I saw.”
A layup by Serale with 3:03 left brought SU to within five at 55-50. Over the next 90 seconds, the Wasps had a pair of turnovers but each possession by SU came up empty. From there, Murrell had two big buckets that finally locked down the win for Emory & Henry.
Off an outlet, Murrell scored and was fouled with 1:38 left. He hit his free throw, pushing the lead back to eight. After a Hornets miss, Murrell scored inside again with 1:17 left to make it 60-50 to put the outcome to rest.
“We really came together at the end of the game,” Murrell said. “I’ve got to give it to [our] point guards — they give me the rock. I can’t go coast-to-coast. That’s not my game. I leave it to them to put the ball in my hands in the correct situations.”
The Wasps got 11 points (nine in the second half) from Murrell, 12 from Tyler Mullins, and 10 each from Terrell and Charles Smith.
The Hornets had just one other player score in double-figures, as season scoring leader Jared Carithers had 11. Jimi Starks joined McEathron with eight.
“Our freshmen are starting to grow up,” Pryor said. “I think we can build on our effort. We’re going to go to Bridgewater on Wednesday and we’ve got to make layups and free throws. If we bring the same effort and the same execution that we had [against the Wasps] we’ll put ourselves in a better chance to win.”
As far as Almulla is concerned, the Bridgewater game can not come soon enough.
“We’e got to focus, we’ve got to rebound the ball, and we’ve just got to have heart,” Almulla said. “We’ll be fine.”