Men’s Basketball Continues Unbeaten Streak

Panthers are 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the ODAC
Tahli Oden, senior, glides to the basket for two of his 12 points against Eastern Mennonite University.
Tahli Oden, senior, glides to the basket for two of his 12 points against Eastern Mennonite University.
Staff Photo
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  • Jikari Johnson, junior, drives the ball down the lane for two against the Royals.

  • Alfredo Abel-Rivera, sophomore, backs his opponent down into the paint for two of his 21 points last Saturday.

  • Darwin Randolph, junior, penetrates the lane before dishing the ball off for an assist.

  • Bryant Wall, junior, records one of his six blocks on the afternoon for the Panthers. Ferrum beat EMU 73-56.

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Jikari Johnson, junior, and Alfredo Abel-Rivera, sophomore, combined for 45 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals as the Panthers overcame a first-half deficit and poured in 40-second-half-points to beat Eastern Mennonite 73-56 at home Saturday.

“The biggest thing was that our intensity defensively wasn’t the same in the first half as it was in the second,” Head Coach Patrick Corrigan said. “In the second half, we were a lot more active in helping and a lot more active in closing out.”

In a first half, where there were six lead changes and five ties, the Panthers spent more time with the lead, but EMU went into the break with a 34-31 lead.

The biggest advantage for either team at that point was four points. EMU was also aided by 53.8% shooting from the floor, compared to the Panthers’ 39.4%. Moreover, the Royals went 5-9 from three-point land for 55.6%, and Ferrum went an uncharacteristic 2-11 from beyond the arc for 18.2%.

The second half started similarly, with the squads trading buckets. Both teams played evenly until the score was knotted at 40, but the Panthers went on a 12-1 run to go up 52-41 with 12:25 remaining in the contest.

The Royals never led again.

EMU did get within seven with 11:33 to play, but a Johnson lay-up and an and-one put the Panther lead into double digits at the 9:38 mark. From there, Ferrum consistently padded their total, leading by as much as 19 at the 1:17 mark off a Marcus Neal, senior, jumper.

“I was glad we stuck together,” Johnson said. “We were fighting adversity in the first half, and just the fact that we were able to overcome that like we did at Roanoke–that’s big for us moving forward. I was pretty proud of that.”

Abel-Rivera attributed much of the success to team-oriented play and more team cohesiveness.

“Second half we just started playing together,” Abel-Rivera said. “We got some great looks. First half I thought we had decent looks, but we just weren’t making shots. Second half we just executed.”

By game’s end, the Panthers held the Royals to 22 second-period points. Aiding in the defensive effort was Bryant Wall, junior, who recorded six blocks on the afternoon–four of them in a two-minute stretch deep in the second half.

Wall was coming off an 8-block evening the previous game against Roanoke College where he set the school record for most blocks in a game.

“He’s one of those guys who has a nose for where the ball is going to be,” Corrigan said. “His length helps him, but he really does just have a knack. He has the instinct of the timing.”

Also attending the block party was Abel-Rivera who contributed two, one of which at the 2:16 point could be heard throughout the gym. A grinning Abel-Rivera could barely contain his elation on the trip back down the floor.

“The player that I blocked–he’s actually from my hometown,” Abel-Rivera said. “Getting that block on him was kind of special because back home, we hoop a lot and talk trash. We’re definitely going to talk about that.”

Over the course of the seven games this season, Corrigan has consistently praised Abel-Rivera’s performance–as well as the forward’s off-season training. Able-Rivera said the off-season training has played a large role.

“Last year I had a couple games where players moved me around. I had to get in the weight room. I had to transform my body into being a better basketball player,” Abel-Rivera said.

The sophomore from Stafford, VA has worked his way into the starting lineup as the season has progressed.

“I told coach it doesn’t matter if I come off the bench or start, I’m going to go out there and do my job and play hard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do,” he said.

For his part Johnson, a junior, was the again the game’s high scorer with 24 points after coming off a 30-point performance in the previous game against Roanoke.

Corrigan often refers to Johnson as a go-to on the team, and Johnson enjoys the challenge.

“When I’m out there, I don’t feel the pressure,” Johnson said. “But it’s a role that I embrace and kind of wanted when I came here–like in the most humble way possible. It motivates me to embrace that role because I came from a school where I didn’t play at all, so I just want to not take it for granted, and I look forward to it every game.”

At 7-0, Johnson is aware of the need for the team to not get ahead of itself.

“We know in this conference, it’s one of the better conferences in our division,” he said. “So we know no game is going to be given to us. We have to work for every single game. We’re staying humble with it, but we know what we’re capable of on the court. We need to stay level-headed and take every opponent seriously.”

Abel-Rivera agrees.

“This conference is a really tough DIII conference,” he said. “It’s one of the hardest in the country. You have to compete every single game. You got to work for it to make it happen.”

Johnson emphasized that it’s the team culture and ethic that keeps the Panthers grounded and on the plus side.

“Shout out to the team for competing every day and pushing us to do better,” he said. “Every game, we get better. Every day, we get better. Every week, we keep on improving, so we just got to keep this momentum going.”

Abel-Rivera hopes to build on the momentum.

“Let’s keep rolling,” he said.

On the second half, the Panthers notched up their shooting percentages and went 46.7% from the floor and an even 40% from beyond the arc. They also went 59.1% from the stripe on the game.

Tahli Oden, senior, led the team in assists with six and also knocked down 12 points.

Darwin Randolph, junior, led the team in steals with five, had seven rebounds, four points, and an assist.

The Panthers next game will be Wednesday at Lynchburg at 7 p.m.









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