By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Replacing Byron Carpenter wasn’t going to be an easy task for the Bluefield College Rams.
No one player could do it. Two have done just fine.
Bluefield College head coach Richard Morgan has turned to the two-headed inside presence of Alex Lubsey (13.8 ppg, 6.2 reb) and Josh Nesbit (14.6 ppg, 7.6 reb) to try and replace the contributions of Carpenter , an NAIA All-American, who scored more than 1,500 points in three seasons with the Rams.
All that duo has done is average 28.4 points a game, and combined to provide 13.8 rebounds a contest.
“To replace Byron was going to be hard just because Byron was just a big part of our offense,” said Morgan, of Carpenter, who used up his eligibility after last season and has had professional tryouts in France and with the NBDL. “We have replaced him with two guys and they are doing the same job that he was doing.
“You are getting two people, but you are getting the same production, that is the main thing, you have got to have the same production.”
So far so good.
Bluefield is currently 7-3 on the season, including a 1-2 mark in the ultra-competitive Mid-South Conference. Up next are a pair of key games at the Dome Gymnasium, with Cumberland (10-3, 2-2) on tap tonight, and Lindsey Wilson (10-6, 1-3) on Saturday.
Win those and Bluefield will be right in the mix to reach its goal of qualifying for the MSC tournament at the end of the season, something the Rams didn’t do it in its first year in the league in 2013. Eight of the 10 teams will compete for the Mid-South crown.
“Our goal right now is just to make the tournament, if we make the tournament we will take what we got from there,” Morgan said. “If we stay committed to what we are doing, stay the course and just ride the wave I think we will be fine.
“We don’t have to go over things we used to and that has been great for me.”
Bluefield has worked to improve on last year’s 10-17 season in the Rams’ first season in the MSC, and so far so good. The Rams have three losses by a combined 22 points to Bluefield State and league foes St. Catharine and Pikeville.
That loss to Pikeville, an 80-77 setback last Thursday, was all the proof the Rams needed that they can compete with the best teams in the MSC, which may be the toughest NAIA league in America. Bluefield actually outplayed the Bears most of the way, but fell short at the end.
Those same Bears have now climbed to No. 1 in the nation. Don’t think that hasn’t given the Rams confidence heading into two games over the next three days.
“It really does, just coming in and just knowing what we could have done if we had won that game,” said Morgan, whose Rams followed that loss to Pikeville with a win last Saturday at West Virginia Tech. “It would have really helped us tremendously from a confidence standpoint, from a swagger standpoint.
“In our league you have got that swagger and I think our guys are starting to understand that.”
Morgan has received consistent play all season from the guard trio of Kearsten Marion (17.1 ppg), Andrew Wilson (11.0) and Milligan transfer Kyle Grisby (6.5).
It was the frontcourt where Morgan was looking for answers with the departure of Carpenter, and he has gotten it, not just from Nesbit and Lubsey, but also from Eric Dukes, Devin Page, along with recent newcomer Nequan Melvin and talented Ederson Exume.
“I think we have done it by a committee of a couple of guys to take over that spot and right now we are right where we want to be as far as how we are playing,” Morgan said. “We just need to finish better down the stretch, but I think that will come as our guys get a little older it will come.”
Morgan doesn’t have to worry about his Rams playing hard. They have figured out to survive in the MSC, there is no other way to play.
“I don’t think we have to coach-teach effort anymore,” Morgan said. “We are playing hard. I think they understand that. I think that is pretty much nailed in there now.
“We have drilled it and drilled it and now I think they understand that there is no way around it, we have got to play hard every night just to compete on this level.”
Bluefield is also a close-knit team, which is important to Morgan, who knows the importance of chemistry, having been a standout on the court at the University of Virginia.
“They understand what they are doing and they ask questions and that is how I know whether they are locked in or not,” said Morgan, whose son, Nick, is a talented freshman at Graham. “That is what I base it on and I think they like being around each other.
“That has been a great thing to watch, just this whole team’s development of being a teammate and being a team member, I think there is a big difference. You have got to have a teammate to make it in the whole thing, we have got to just be ready to go when it is time to tip that ball off.”
That begins tonight, with a visit from Cumberland, which was ranked 23rd in the nation just last week in the NAIA ranks, followed by Lindsey Wilson, which is 10-6 on the season. All that awaits next week are a pair of trips to Kentucky, including a visit to defending national champion Georgetown.
“We have two big ball games this weekend that could put us right back in the mix,” Morgan said.
“Going on the road and getting that one at West Virginia Tech was huge, but now I think we have to come right back and defend our home court and go on the road next week and see what we can do there.”
Welcome to Year 2 of the Mid-South.
“We have to go into every game ready to play...,” said Morgan, whose Rams won at Campbellsville by 1 and lost to MSC foes St. Catharine by 9 and Pikeville by 3. “I think if we can get these two it will be 3-3 and that will put us right where we want to be in this league. One week at a time.”
—Contact Brian Woodson