By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- It seems as if Christian Jackson has been trying on new jerseys his entire basketball career.
The well-traveled 26-year-old combo guard is on his last stop at Frostburg State, and if Monday night's performance against host Shenandoah is any indication he may have finally found the right jersey.
Jackson poured in a game-high 27 points to lead the Bobcats to an 80-69 victory at Shingleton Gymnasium.
"He's only got one year of eligibility -- this is it," Frostburg State coach Webb Hatch said. "He initially went to Manhattan on a full ride, left there after a year, was at Bowie State, played there for a year, was out of school for two or three years, ended up at Emporia State and then wound up at our place last year but wasn't eligible."
Jackson is on pace to graduate in May, but he is making the most of his final basketball season by averaging more than 20 points per outing so far.
It looked as if Frostburg State (2-2) would need every bit of that production against the Hornets. After racing out to a 26-12 lead in the first half, the Bobcats promptly gave it away by allowing Shenandoah (2-4) to exploit the seams in a previously befuddling zone. Junior point guard Bryce Mitchell started penetrating the Bobcats' packed defense for points in the paint, and freshman Sharif Almulla opened things up further with a pair of 3-pointers during the Hornets' 26-10 run to end the half.
Leading 38-36, the Hornets that lead to six with back-to-back jumpers from Shaquille Rodney and Avery Green to open the second half.
Behind the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jackson, the Bobcats regrouped to produce a pivotal 13-0 run. A load on the baseline, Jackson repeatedly darted into the paint for high-percentage shots or to draw a foul. At the line, Jackson sank 10 of 12 free-throw attempts.
"He's a very good player," Shenandoah coach Rob Pryor said. "He's strong and their offense obviously runs through him. We did an OK job on him at times and got him in foul trouble. I think where he hurt us the most was at the free-throw line."
DeSean Antoine, limited to just two points in the first half, capped that 13-0 surge with a 3-pointer at the 16:03 mark to put Frostburg State up, 49-42.
While Antoine (14 points) and the Bobcats were heating up, the Hornets went ice-cold from the field. Jimi Starks' jumper with 12:10 to go ended Shenandoah's nearly seven-minute stretch without a field goal.
"We wanted to control the tempo," Hatch said. "We played a lot of zone because these guys were shooting like 5 of 16 on 3s, so we didn't think they were a great 3-point shooting team. And they run that variation of a Princeton-style offense, and we were worried about back cuts and some of the stuff they do out of that, whether we could guard it or not."
The Hornets did cut the deficit to five points on a Jared Carithers layup, but that was as close as Shenandoah could get as the Bobcats' full-time zone took a toll.
"I guess guys got tired and we just didn't want to attack anymore," said Almulla, who tallied a team-high 17 points. "That's the main thing, is you have to attack the zone and get in the gaps and kick out for open 3s or kick out to the short corner for open layups."
Pryor said the Hornets will be working more on attacking zones, starting today.
"We figured that they might play some zone, and they have played a few possessions here early in the season from the film that we've seen. But we did not handle it well."
Also for the Bobcats, Kwambina Coker notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds and Micah Steinmiller added 10 points in the paint.
Shenandoah's Xavier Alston nearly had a double-double of his own with 12 points and nine rebounds. Mitchell also reached double digits in scoring with 10 points along with a team-high six assists.
The smaller Hornets outrebounded Frostburg State, 41-35, but had six more turnovers with 18.
"The bottom line is they shot too many free throws, and we didn't contest enough shots," Pryor said. "And points off turnovers, second-chance points and fast-break points -- that tri-fecta really killed us."
Playing a rotation dominated by underclassmen -- 15 of the 19 players on the squad are freshmen or sophomores -- Shenandoah is bound to experience a few growing pains.
"We've got a lot of young guys that I think are still getting used to this level, with the size, the physicality," Pryor said. "So I think with each game we'll get a little bit better and understand the things we need to do in order to be successful against a team like that."
-- Sports editor Jeff Nations can be reached at (540) 465-5137 or at email@example.com