The CSU-Pueblo’s men’s basketball roster is filled with new, inexperienced players and just a handful of returners this season. This recipe can sometimes breed success.
This was just not the case for this team Friday night.
For the ThunderWolves, inexperience bred poor free throw shooting and rebounding. Two key factor that led to a 73-69 season-opening loss to the York University Panthers at Massari Arena in the 26th CSU-Pueblo Al Kaly Classic.
The ThunderWolves’ allowed 31 second-chance points against a Panther’s team that was led by sophomore Thad Varmall, who scored 18 points off the bench. York’s 22 offensive rebounds were what set up a majority of these second-chance points.
“I think it just came down to us (not) getting stops when we needed to get stops and them getting offensive rebounds,” CSU-Pueblo head coach Pat Eberhart said. “It was just timely possessions where if we just get the rebounds, we have a chance to get back in the game, and we didn’t do that. A lot has to do with having new guys.”
A new group also means experiencing the first taste of real game action, Eberhart said. The missed free throws allowed York to be in the game and eventually take control of the lead lat in the second half, he said.
Eberhart alluded to the fact that it was not that his team doesn’t practice free throws, but the fact that they have not yet shot them in a game-like environment.
The ThunderWolves shot a lackluster 47 percent (9-19) from the free-throw line which is a statistic that Eberhart says his team needs to improve on.
Things were not all bad for Eberhart’s team in the first half.
Led by senior Daniel Pierce, making his first home opener start in his career for the ThunderWolves led the Panther 36-34 at the half. Pierce hit two consecutive three-pointers from both ends of the perimeter which added to his 10 first half points. He ended the game with 16 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.
Senior Kris Lawrie was another big contributor in the key for the ThunderWolves. His 17 total points and 6 rebounds helped the ThunderWolves control the middle in the first half.
Being out-rebounded and out-hustled, as well as York’s clutch three-point shooting, were what doomed the ThunderWolves, Lawrie said, “They just made some big shots at the end.”
Pierce and Lawrie, who both led the team in scoring, are going to have to be key contributors in the Pack’s run for an RMAC championship.
“We’re the leaders. We played a lot of minutes last year, so we’re gonna have to lead this team this year,” Lawrie said.
Junior Mykael Thompson, a transfer from Dodge City Community College in Kansas, was one of the bright spots in this crop of new players for the ThunderWolves. The guard ended up with 13 points for the night.
After Thomspons only three-point field goal of the night, the ThunderWolves extended their first half lead at 34-28, but after two consecutive Panther three-pointers, they scrapped their way back into the game only down 36-34 at halftime.
Led in the second half by senior Dedrick Dews, the Panthers began to control the offensive boards against the ThunderWolves. It was Dews who ate up the points in the paint for the Panthers, as he ended up tallying 18 points and 7 rebounds for the night.
Despite a sluggish start to the second half and falling behind 64-55, the ThunderWolves were awoken by a monstrous dunk from Thompson that put the ThunderWolves down 66-64.
However, after a turnover by Lawrie and a last-minute Dee Ellison jumper, the Panthers from York pulled ahead 72-69.
The ThunderWolves had one final chance to tie the game up, but missed jumpers from Thompson and sophomore Leon Flowers, forced the Pack to commit desperation fouls which allowed York to finish them off by a final score of 73-69.
Now that the ThunderWolves new additions have finally gotten their feet wet, coach Eberhart believes this team will improve.
“We’ll be better,” Eberhart said.
The ThunderWolves look to get their first victory of the season when they host Oklahoma Panhandle State Saturday night.