Fauber: SU men work on ‘next step’

Brad Fauber

By Brad Fauber

Shenandoah University’s 2014-15 men’s basketball season tips off today with an exhibition game at Division I George Mason University and, like most other teams, the Hornets are looking to build on what was established a year ago.

SU made great strides as a program during the 2013-14 season. The Hornets won 12 games after combining to win eight in the previous two years under head coach Rob Pryor. They enjoyed a seven-game win streak during the first half of last season — a stretch that included their first two Old Dominion Athletic Conference wins since joining the league in 2012 — and started the season 10-3.

The Hornets faltered down the stretch in the conference portion of their schedule, losing 11 of their final 13 games to finish the season 12-14 (4-12 ODAC). But it was the type of season that SU needed under Pryor, who is in his fourth season as the program’s head coach. For the first time since Pryor took over the team in 2011, the Hornets have a solid foundation from which to build upon as they head into a new year.

“The approach is that we’re playing with an even bigger chip on our shoulder,” Pryor said on Wednesday. “We felt like we earned a little bit of respect last year. We don’t really worry about what other people think, but as a program we want to take that next step forward and we believe that next step forward is getting to Salem.”

Pryor added that the ideal goal is not only to make it to the ODAC tournament quarterfinals in Salem this season, but to do so via a first-round bye, which is obtained by finishing the regular season among the top four in the conference standings. How realistic is that goal for a Hornets squad that was picked to finish 11th in the 12-team race by league coaches this year? Not very, but lofty goals are always a necessity for improvement.

What is more obtainable for SU is that trip to Salem. Shenandoah has been ousted in the first round of the tournament in each of its first two seasons, but the Hornets came very close to achieving that goal last year. As the 10th seed, the Hornets nearly knocked off No. 7 Bridgewater in the first round before falling in overtime.

The Hornets surely face an uphill climb to that goal, though. They will be playing most of their conference games as the underdog (only Emory & Henry was picked below SU in the preseason coaches poll), and they face some unknowns heading into this evening’s exhibition contest.

Probably the biggest question Shenandoah faces is how the team will make up for all of the points lost by the graduation of Avery Green. The guard carried the Hornets on his back last season, averaging 24.2 points per game, a mark good for sixth-best in all of Division III men’s hoops.

Shenandoah’s offense will need to be more of a team effort this year, and Pryor stated that the goal is to have four or five players average anywhere between 9 and 13 points a game. Pryor feels he has the talent to accomplish that feat this season — the addition of Hagerstown Community College transfer Malcolm Clark could be a huge one for the Hornets this winter, he said — and he added that the coaching staff has decided that the Hornets will do “less” on offense to give his players more freedom with the ball in their hand, which reflects the depth that Pryor feels SU has this season.

Senior guard Jared Carithers figures to be the Hornets’ best offensive weapon this season after averaging 14.5 points per game last year, and experienced players like junior guard/forward Jimi Starks, senior forward Xavier Alston and sophomore center Brandon Pressley will need to help pick up the scoring slack.

“We’re playing a lot of guys that have had at least some experience,” Pryor said. “For the first time since I’ve been here, we’re not starting a freshman. That’s a big jump and a big show in terms of where we’re headed and the direction of the program, the state of the program right now.”

As I mentioned, the Hornets continue to face an uphill climb this season and likely won’t factor much in the ODAC race this winter. But it’s not out of the question to expect Shenandoah to see more improvement on the court again this season.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com