By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
With Byron Carpenter, Kearsten Marion and Andrew Wilson returning for the Bluefield College men’s basketball team, Richard Morgan is confident the Rams will continue to put the ball in the basket.
What he would like is to keep their opponents from doing the same.
“We have got to defend this year, coming into this season we were in the top 100 in defense and we were in the top 2 or 3 in the country in scoring,” said Morgan, in his fourth season at Bluefield. “We took it upon ourselves that we can be there in both areas if we want to, but it is going to take sacrifices from the guys and it is going to take the ability for them to show up every night ready to go.”
That was supposed to begin on Monday, but snow forced the Rams’ exhibition game with Marshall to be switched to Thursday. The games that count will start on Saturday when Bluefield hosts Virginia University of Lynchburg.
Up next will be Bluefield State on Nov. 7, followed two days later by Davis & Elkins, with Mid-South Conference favorite Georgetown visiting on Nov. 15. How deep is the MSC? Georgetown is picked first in the MSC, but Pikeville is the top-ranked team in the NAIA national polls.
“If we play with passion, if we play with energy every night, I think we can definitely be among the rest of the guys,” Morgan said. “We start off with Georgetown too and they are picked to be number one in the league, I think it is going to be a good night for us right here at the dome.”
Bluefield enters its first season in the MSC, having finished 19-16 last season, including a third place spot in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. The MSC is a step up to NAIA Division I status, and the league is loaded, with four teams receiving first place MSC votes, including Georgetown, Pikeville, Lindsey Wilson and the University of the Cumberlands.
“We knew it was going to be tough coming into this league, four teams in this league are in the top 25 in the country, but we are not going to say that is okay,” said Morgan, who expressed ‘hurt’ at the Rams being picked last in the preseason polls. “If that is okay then we need to find some guys that it is not okay with.
“We are going to come out and we are going to compete and play hard. We can score with anyone, but we just couldn’t defend and that is an area we have worked on in the preseason and hopefully we can come in and make a splash.”
Bluefield does have the luxury of returning a talented trio that averaged 52.6 points per game last season, led by the 6-foot-7 Carpenter, who was the AAC Player of the Year, contributing 21.3 points and 8.9 rebounds a game, and will be the only senior playing for the Rams.
“He is a very special guy who can play in the middle and there are not a lot of guys out there that play as true post players anymore,” Morgan said. “I think it is okay that he accepts that role and tries to do what he does out there and be that guy for us again this year…
“That is big to have a guy you know you count on night in and night out on both ends of the floor.”
There is also a talented guard tandem in Marion (16.7 ppg, 2.3 steals per game) and Wilson (14.6 ppg, 3.6 assists), who are extremely quick, can get up and down the floor, will penetrate and pass, or step outside and nail long shots from the perimeter.
“We have two great guards coming back, they are very fast, they keep us up-tempo so I think we will stay with that, but also we have to stop some people and I am hoping we can do that,” Morgan said. “I don’t think this league has seen these types of guards, I will put them up with anybody in the league.
“They are very, very talented so I think it is a situation where we welcome (the competition) and we are going to be excited about it, but at the same time we know we have our work cut out for us.”
Finding answers around those three will be the challenge ahead for the Rams, but 18 players were on the preseason varsity roster, including returnees like Devin Page (6-5, fr), Ed Porter (5-8, jr) and Tucker Hobbie (6-4, so).
Morgan has four imports that excite him, including Raheem Jolliffe (6-1, jr), Michael Collins (6-3, jr) and Adonte McCarter (6-1, jr), all of whom were part of a NJCAA national championship team at Pinehurst, N.C. Pierre Walters (6-7, jr) tallied 16 points and 10 rebounds a game last season at another Tarheel State junior college.
“(Walters) is very long, athletic, runs the floor extremely well and he can stick the medium range jumper,” Morgan said. “He is going to be another one that we can count on to give Byron a little bit of a blow.”
The remainder of the roster _ some of whom could wind up playing on the junior varsity squad _ includes juniors Kyle Grigsby (5-8), Josh Nesit (6-7) and Nickolas Stathopolos (6-8), who comes to Bluefield via Alaska from Greece. Sophomores Josh Fore (6-0), Jesse Dunkins (6-5), Ron Moore, Jr. (6-6) and Eric Swift (6-3) and freshman Chad Kicks will also be competing for playing time.
“Overall we have got some other guys that once they see what it is to play NAIA I think we will know who else we have on the map that can really help us,” Morgan said.
Morgan is looking at several keys to success this season, with defense and being prepared for the physical nature of the MSC being near the top of the list. He also wants a fast pace, but fewer turnovers, and needs his guards to connect on a high-percentage from 3-point range.
“On one hand we want to run and push the pace, but at the same time we want to control the game and not turn the ball over as much, and I think we have got to stay at the top on our 3-point shooting,” Morgan said. “I think we have got to be on top in our 3-point percentage and if we can do those things I think we will have a great chance of winning some games.”
Bluefield, which will also play Division I North Carolina-Asheville in an exhibition after Christmas, will face a new collection of opponents and will have to adjust to playing in completely new and hostile territories on the road.
“Basketball is very humbling," Morgan said. "I think what we are going to do is rally the troops and be ready to go to battle every night whether it is on the road or here at the dome.”
The top eight teams out of the 11 schools that comprise the basketball portion of the MSC will advance to the postseason tournament at the end of the season. Morgan is anxious to be one of those teams.
He is also eager to prove a point, that the Rams _ who have won 139 games since 2005, including three 20-win seasons_ can’t be expected to finish at the bottom of the league.
“I just want to be able to finish in the top 8, but I am taking that personal,” Morgan said. “I knew it would be, but it bothers me. It gives me something to get up every day and go to work and try to come up with some type of plan for these guys. To be able to compete every night and just getting better each game would be a big thing for us, just every night getting better and defend.
“If our guys can get over that hump where we get better every night as a team then I will call that success and then we will let the chips fall where they may, but we will be ready though.”
— Contact Brian Woodson at firstname.lastname@example.org