Despite second half push, Lions defeat Dean in opener

by Matt Couture / Beacon Staff • November 30, 2016

Geoff Gray goes in for a layup against Dean in the win Wednesday night.
Geoff Gray goes in for a layup against Dean in the win Wednesday night.

At halftime of Emerson’s men’s basketball home opener, it seemed the second half would simply be superfluous.

That’s how dominant the Lions (3-2) appeared early in their first home game of the season on Wednesday night. A 30-point lead at the half was trimmed to 14 by the night’s end, but Emerson still handled Dean College easily in non-conference play, 84-70.

On Emerson’s opening possession, sophomore guard Geoff Gray knocked down a long three, setting the tone for the team’s first half performance. The Bulldogs’ Aziz Gilliam answered with a three-pointer of his own, but that was as close as Dean College (4-4) would get.

A 16-point run by the Lions followed. Less than five minutes into the game, Dean head coach Rico Cabral had already burned two timeouts. Less than six minutes into the contest, all five of Emerson’s starters were already on the board.

Dean shot poorly and played leaky defense, allowing Emerson to open up a 26-5 lead with 12 minutes to play in the first half. Cabral took his third timeout after freshman guard Kent Ellertson knocked down a three fresh off the bench. The Lions made 10 of 21 three-point field goals on the night, while the Bulldogs knocked down just five of their 22 attempts.

Emerson did struggle to rebound defensively in the opening half. At the break, Dean had collected 13 offensive rebounds while the Lions had just three. Emerson head coach Bill Curley said he made that the centerpiece of his halftime comments. 

“We try to be a little too cute; we’ve got to get a little mean, get a little nastiness in there,” Curley said. “You’ve got to hit somebody, it’s a contact sport. Our guys like to watch the ball and eat their popcorn when the shot goes up instead of [going to] get the ball.”

The opening minutes of the second half made it apparent that the Bulldogs weren’t eager to relive the drubbing of the first. Dean started the half on an 8-2 run, aided by two layups from freshman forward Naquwan Solomon, who finished with 23 points to lead the team.

As the score became tighter, Gray stepped up for Emerson. With just over 11 minutes to play, he went end-to-end for a key layup. The play excited a crowd that was beginning to watch the scoreboard more closely.

The Bulldogs cut their deficit to 10 with just under four minutes remaining in the game, but never seriously threatened the Lions’ lead from there.

Gray, who finished the night as Emerson’s leading scorer with 23 points, is also the team’s leading rebounder through five games. He largely attributed the strong start to forwards like John Geary and Mac Sashin blocking out effectively underneath.

Gray said rebounding concerns against Dean largely stemmed from the use of a zone defense, meaning players didn’t have one man to concentrate on boxing out. He said the Lions determine whether or not to use a man-to-man or zone defense based on opponent.

“We switch it up because we have coaches that know what they’re doing, and we play a good zone especially having Mac [Sashin] in the middle,” Gray said. “We recognized the type of play that Dean played with and decided to go zone the whole game.”

Dean was given exploratory status as a Division III program for this season, according to its website, meaning the basketball program, along with other varsity sports at the college, will be evaluated with an eye toward future official Division III credentials.

The Franklin, Massachusetts college visited Emerson’s NEWMAC opponent, Wheaton, on Nov. 15. The Bulldogs fell to the Lyons 70-59 despite a three-point halftime lead. Emerson won’t meet Wheaton until Jan. 18.

The Lions continue their non-conference schedule on Saturday, traveling to Amherst College (4-0) for a 3 p.m. tip.