The good news: Master’s men’s basketball smothered Menlo College with effort and intensity on the defensive end in Thursday’s Golden State Athletic Conference opening 102-72 win at TMU.
The better news: Coach Kelvin Starr believes the Mustangs can still ratchet up their execution on that end of the floor.
“Energy and effort was A+,” said Starr after his team’s 14th straight win. “Execution on the defensive end, not as good. It was decent, but not good enough to win every GSAC game this year.”
A perfect run in conference – something the school’s never seen – is the goal, said senior guard Lawrence Russell.
Russell felt the Mustangs exited the locker room a little sluggish Thursday. They led only 18-14 with nearly 10 minutes gone.
But then NAIA No. 5 Master’s (15-1, 1-0 GSAC) found another gear, and by halftime the drama was all but gone.
Russell finished with a game-high 23 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Hansel Atencia tied Russell with 23 points, adding five assists.
Atencia, in his second season playing point guard at TMU after transferring from Liberty University, has found a better balance of attacking and dishing this season. He has upped his assists per game from four to 4.5, entering the night, and has helped the Mustangs regularly break 100 points of offense.
Thursday marked the fourth straight game TMU has eclipsed the century mark.
Center Tim Soares had a big hand in the effort. The 6-foot-10 sophomore totaled 21 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes and continued to anchor one of the nation’s best defenses, statistically.
Menlo (13-3, 0-1) figured to test the Mustangs. The Oaks entered the game making 50% of their shots, the 18th best mark in NAIA Division 1, where Menlo received votes in the top 25 this week for the first time since 2002 thanks to an eight-game winning streak.
Menlo made 36% of its shots before halftime, and 41% for the game.
“We watched them in Arizona (at the Cactus Classic in December),” Russell said, “and coach knew they were a good team, a streaky team. They’re better than last year so we had to lock them up defensively.”
Russell tallied two blocks and two steals in a game where 12 Mustangs saw action, allowing Starr to sub out spent defenders for fresh legs.
The hustle helped hide TMU’s deficiencies on defense; namely, allowing the Oaks to penetrate off the dribble and picking up fouls.
“I don’t really have to motivate them in that area,” Starr said of the team’s effort on defense. “I haven’t had to yet for about a month and a half, two months. That shows maturity.”
Darryl McDowell-White scored eight points off the bench with four assists for the Mustangs, who will host William Jessup on Saturday at 3 p.m.
The Warriors, ranked No. 22 in the country, lost to Westmont 74-72 on Thursday.