Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Men’s basketball’s last two games at the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic were eerily similar, just with two different outcomes — one win and one loss. Both had 3-point shooting and rebounding struggles at times.
On Wednesday night, the black and gold came from behind to down Utah State 85-69 behind a 23-point performance from sophomore guard Bones Hyland. The next day, Thanksgiving, the Rams squared off with No. 15 West Virginia, falling 78-66.
Here are four observations from the team’s first two appearances in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, tournament:
The Rams looked hot from deep to start the Utah State game, draining their first four from deep. Junior guard KeShawn Curry nailed two and Hyland sank a pair as well. The shooting stalled at the end of the first half, going 1 for 8 from beyond the arc after starting 6 of 8.
Against the Aggies after the hot start, Hyland simmered down, missing five 3-pointers in a row before his next conversion. He finished 5 of 10 from downtown and the Rams combined to shoot 10 of 24 from deep.
The 3-point shooting went cold against WVU on Thursday, as the team combined to shoot 3-for-21 from beyond the arc. Hyland, who set the freshman record for 3-pointers last season, went 0 for 5.
Junior forward Vince Williams had clutch 3-point shooting in both games, nailing a pair against the Aggies during an 18-0 run and one against the Mountaineers to pull the Rams within seven.
This year’s team is young and against WVU, it showed. The Rams were dominated on the glass 49-34, including 23-17 on offensive boards.
“They’re big and strong and super, brutally physical, and that affected us around the rim,” coach Mike Rhoades said. “We just didn’t scrap out enough defensive rebounds.”
The Mountaineers used their size and toughness to take advantage of the Rams’ youth. Rhoades said the team will work on improving the offense and rebounding.
“We got enough bodies to fly in there and get rebounds,” Rhoades said. “Now against West Virginia, it’s a little different. There’s some disparities there.”
Against Utah State, the Rams were outrebounded 35-28, including 13-4 on the offensive glass. The Aggies’ size played a role in that, as they had two players standing over 7 feet tall, who combined for 11 rebounds.
Curry led the Rams in rebounds in each game, logging four in both. The black and gold big men, junior forward Brendan Medley-Bacon and senior forward Levi Stockard III only recorded a combined five rebounds over the two games.
The Rams’ bread and butter is defense, and that led the come from behind win against Utah State. Havoc didn’t allow an Aggie field goal for almost all of the final 10 minutes. That drought allowed the Rams to go on an 18-0 run to take the lead and put the game away.
“Havoc,” Rhoades said about what spurred the second half surge against the Aggies. “A little Havoc.”
Sophomore guard Tre Clark starred defensvily in the contest, leading the team in steals with four. Against the Aggies, he got the job done on the offensive side as well, going 4-for-4 from the field and recording 8 points.
On Thursday, the Rams defense forced 21 turnovers, scoring 23 points off the Mountaineer errors. Clark logged two more steals against WVU while Hyland recorded three of his own.
Rhoades was happy with how the Rams pressed in the game, especially late.
“We also had some really good traps and guys intercepting the next play the next pass,” Rhoades said. “We switched some defenses up today, some presses up today, and I thought the guys really executed that and helped us get back in the game.”
Freshman guard Ace Baldwin became the first freshman to start for the black and gold since Malik Crowfield during the 2016-17 season. He starred in his collegiate debut, logging seven assists. He followed that performance with six assists against WVU.
Rhoades said that Baldwin is learning on the fly and will improve each game.
“He’s continued to learn,” Rhoades said about Baldwin. “I need him to be more of an extension of a coach from me to the rest of the team, and he’ll learn that.”
Baldwin and the three other freshmen — guard Josh Banks and forwards Jamir Watkins and Mikeal Brown Jones — all saw playing time during the first pair of games.
Watkins logged 5 points against Utah State and another 7 against WVU. Brown-Jones dropped 6 points against the Aggies and 3 against the Mountaineers. Banks, a Charlotte, North Carolina, native logged 2 points in each game.
The Rams are back in action tonight against Memphis at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2.