The Hoyas were fast, high-scoring and deep. They shot 45.5 percent from three-point land. Everyone played off the bench. Two first-year guards ran the backcourt for much of the second half. All in all, seven Hoyas finished with double-digit point totals, and seven saw 20 minutes playing time.
As the new-look Hoyas debuted with a 108-65 exhibition win on Saturday against Army-Fort Hood in McDonough Arena, stylistic comparisons to last year’s team were few. The numbers tell much of the story:
Junior forward Victor Samnick dominated on both ends of the court with 14 rebounds and 13 points. Sophomore power forward Michael Sweetney scored 21 points and five rebounds in just 16 minutes, while also shooting 11-12 from the free-throw line. Senior point guard Kevin Braswell also saw limited minutes, 22, but he still managed 11 points, four assists and five rebounds. Junior big man and captain Courtland Freeman, whose playing time has been limited due to injury over the last two years, scored 10 points, including two early three pointers.
“We have more people comfortable on the perimeter, more people who can stretch the defense,” Men’s Basketball Head Coach Craig Esherick said after the game.
“I told Courtland and Victor before the game to shoot if they had the chance. If they continue to rebound then I don’t mind if they get out on the floor and shoot.”
Freeman and Samnick were not the only ones drawing the defense outside. The surprising performances of first-year guards Drew Hall and Tony Bethel?both from Montrose Christian School in local Rockville, Md.?allowed the Hoyas to run several offensive schemes, giving all 10 Hoyas chances to score.
The addition of Hall, “a natural point guard,” according to Esherick, allows Braswell to take on a more offensive role. Indeed, Braswell was able to penetrate more often with Hall at point guard, creating opportunities for the junior captain or the forwards near the basket.
Hall played excellent defense in the first half, drawing a charge late in the period, but in the second half he looked lazy on defense and also turned the ball on several occasions.
Despite the shaky second half, Hall’s playmaking ability, evidenced by his team high six assists, brings life to the Hoyas backcourt.
“I haven’t felt that comfortable with the point guard position in a long, long time,” Esherick said.
He has reason to feel comfortable. Along with Braswell, Hall and junior guard Trent Hillier, Bethel can contribute as both a point guard and off guard.
On Saturday, however, it was his scoring ability at the two spot that excited the McDonough crowd of 1,534. Bethel, whose ball handling features a lightning-quick crossover, was able to get open throughout the game and scored 13 points, featuring three three-pointers and a couple of running finger rolls. His textbook three-point stroke allowed the Hoyas to spread the defense with a smaller lineup.
“I’m definitely going to [play Hall and Bethel] this year. Kevin is very good shooter. As a change of pace, it would be great to go small,” he said.
At one point near the end of the first half, Esherick ran a small lineup featuring sophomore swingman Omari Faulkner, sophomore small forward Gerald Riley, Hall, Bethel and Freeman; quite a contrast from last year’s post-oriented lineup featuring departed seniors Lee Scruggs and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.
With the faster lineup and its ability to press, transition baskets were a key to the victory. With four minutes left in the game, Riley rattled off six straight fast-break points. His 18 points were second only to Sweetney.
Missing from the lineup was heralded recruit Harvey Thomas, a 6-foot-8-inch forward also from Montrose Christian.
Thomas has yet to gain permission to play from the NCAA Clearinghouse, and the final date for those not yet considered eligible to play in regulation games has passed. He will continue to practice with the team until otherwise notified.
“I have nothing to report in relation to Harvey,” Esherick said. “I don’t know his status. We’ve been working with the Clearinghouse … and I’m hoping this will be resolved soon.”
Having Thomas in the game could have helped the post defense, which Esherick was disappointed in. However, the Hoya big men had no trouble on offense.
Fort Hood had no answer for Sweetney and junior center Wesley Wilson on the inside as they combined for 35 points.
After the game, the Hoyas were in good spirits. A usually somber Freeman said he would keep shooting as he left the McDonough locker room, and Samnick walked to his car holding up two fingers for his double double. It might as well have been for victory.