The Roadrunners’ men’s basketball team is off to another fast start to the season with a 14-7 overall record and the program’s best start to Southland play in 20 years at 6-1.
The Southland start has the Roadrunners in a good position to win the conference and earn consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
For a team that lost only one player to graduation last season and entered this season with three new players, it is a credit to the returning players who have stepped up this season.
Sophomore forward Tyler Wood believes that the previous experience has been extremely valuable to this year’s squad.
“We’ve learned what it actually takes to be a championship team. We learned how hard it is. All the hours that you got to put into to get there. So, we are able to learn from that and take from it and help prepare for this season to repeat what we did last year,” Wood said.
A huge challenge for this year’s team was replacing the production of guard Devin Gibson, who graduated last spring. However, Wood believes other players have risen to make up for such an explosive player.
“This year we have more people contributing on a nightly basis,” Wood said. “You just never know who’s going to come at you that night.”
Melvin Johnson III is second on the team in scoring average (13.4 points per game) and first in three-point field goals made with 41. Johnson credits the team’s chemistry as one of their strengths.
“Most teams in our conference, they change teams almost every year. Right now, we are building a program, bringing in a bunch of young guys that can play,” Johnson said. “We know how to play together and how to adjust to each person’s game.”
Some of the newest players to Coach Thompson’s team haven’t wasted any time making an impact. Junior transfer guard Kannon Burrage is the Runners top scorer early in this season, with 13.8 points per game and he is number one in made free throws with 71.
Another Junior transfer guard Michael Hale III has adjusted very well to the tempo of Division I basketball. He currently leads the team in assists with 3.1 per game. Hale has also contributed with his defense averaging 1.2 steals per game, ranking him second on the team.
“They have gelled in perfectly,” sophomore forward Igor “Iggy” Nujic said of the new players.
Another strength for the Runners this year is their shooting touch. The Runners are shooting a respectable 44 percent and scoring an average of 73.5 points per game.
“We have a lot of good shooters,” sophomore forward Jeromie Hill said. “Even all our big men can shoot. No one lacks confidence to shoot, and that’s one thing that this team thrives on.” Hill has continued to be a strong offensive presence for the Runners this year by leading the team in field goals made per game (five) rebounds (6.5 per game), and third on the team with a scoring average (12.7 points per game).
The Runners have also shown up on the defensive side of the ball. This year’s squad has kept opponents to an average of 67.5 points per game through the first part of this season.
“At first the new defense was tough. It was complicated and the coaches were expecting a lot from us,” Nujic said. “But once we all bought into it, now it’s starting to click like it should, and we are getting really good results.”
Nujic has also credited the defense as key factor in the win against Texas State.
The Runners seem to have all the right tools for another successful season. They have an efficient offense, a relentless defense and the trust in each other to perform at their best.
“You are going to have a great time if you come to the game,” Wood said.