MEAC / Spartan Men / Sports

SEASON PREVIEW: Spartans Open 2015-16 Season at South Carolina Saturday

rp_primary_D_Shon_Taylor_vs_SCSU_9NORFOLK, Va. – The Norfolk State men’s basketball team will kick off its 2015-16 season on the road with a Saturday evening matchup at South Carolina. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. from Colonial Life Arena.

It will mark the 11th time in the past 12 years NSU has begun the season away from home. The only time the Spartans haven’t opened up on the road was last year.

Media Coverage
The contest will be broadcast live the SEC Network+, the channel’s digital streaming platform. Fans can access it in the same manner as ESPN3 by downloading the WatchESPN app or visiting Derek Scott and Debbie Antonelli will have the call.

Fans can also follow along with the live stats for the game here.

Series History
This will mark the first-ever meeting between NSU and South Carolina. It will also mark the first of two games this year for Norfolk State against SEC schools (Alabama on Jan. 2) after also playing two schools last year (Georgia and Vanderbilt).

About South Carolina
The Gamecocks begin the fourth season under head coach Frank Martin, with season 3 ending at 17-16 overall after a pair of wins in the SEC tournament. South Carolina does return four of its five starters from a year ago and eight of its 12 letterwinners from 2014-15. Five of the top six scorers are back, including junior guards Duane Notice (11.7 points) and Sindarius Thornwell (11.1 points), and the team’s top rebounders in Michael Carrera (5.7 rebounds, 7.1 points), Laimonas Chatkevicius (5.2 boards, 8.6 points) and Mindaugas Kacinas (5.1 rebounds, 6.1 points). USC averaged just 65 points per game last year but also held opponents to 62 points and a 38.7 shooting percentage.

Full Season Preview
The cupboard is not bare for head coach Robert Jones as he enters his third season in charge of the Norfolk State men’s basketball program. The two-headed monster of senior guards Jeff Short and D’Shon Taylor return to anchor a Spartan rotation that scored 70 points per game on the way to a second-place regular season MEAC finish at 12-4. Beyond those two, though, questions abound concerning the new-look Spartans of 2015-16.

The reason there is so much unknown? NSU only returns five players from last year’s team, and no one besides Short and Taylor who averaged even 3.0 points per game. Gone are starters RaShid Gaston (15.5 points, 9.6 rebounds), Malik Thomas (9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds) and Jamel Fuentes (4.2 assists) as well as five other off-the-bench contributors. Three of last year’s freshmen return in addition to a total of seven newcomers.

Now for Jones and his coaching staff, the question becomes who will step up, with three starting spots up for grabs among a contingent of players who have either never played in a Spartan uniform or who played less prominent roles last year as freshmen. Still, the talent is there for NSU to continue its standing as one of the best programs in the conference after posting a 20-win season a year ago.

Short and Taylor will enter the upcoming season as perhaps the most dangerous returning duo in the MEAC. Short was a first-team all-conference performer last year in his first season with NSU, ranking second in the league in scoring at 19.1 points per game while also adding 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He shot nearly 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range while also connecting on 82 percent from the free throw line.

Not to be outdone, Taylor is looking to build off his junior year after arriving from junior college. One of the first players to lock up a starting spot last year, he started every game except senior night and finished the year averaging 13.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Like Short, Taylor is also a threat from long range and brings plenty of hustle and enthusiasm to the court.

Sophomore point guard Zaynah Robinson made strides as the season wore on and now finds himself in a battle to replace Fuentes as this year’s starting point guard. Despite his lack of size at 5-foot-11, Robinson showed some tenacity for getting to the rim while also chipping in with 1.2 assists. He and junior college prospect Brian Kelley will form a solid 1-2 punch at point guard. Kelley averaged 10.6 points, 5.5 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game last year at Baltimore City CC.

The coaching staff is high on junior college guard Jonathan Wade. An all-league performer in one of the tougher junior college conferences, Wade tallied 11.3 points as a sophomore and 14.0 points as a freshman at Gulf Coast State College.

Redshirt senior guard Charles Oliver, a transfer from Robert Morris, will give the Spartans perhaps the deepest rotation of shooting guards in the league. He arrives at NSU this year after competing at Robert Morris two seasons ago, where he averaged 6.3 points per game.

Two walk-ons in sophomores Devonte Banner and Justin Peebles will also add depth to the Spartan bench. Banner played in 24 games last year for the Spartans and contributed 2.4 points while showing the ability to hit from long range. Peebles sat out the 2014-15 season as an NCAA non-qualifier.

The Spartans will be plenty green in the post, as the only returning player is sophomore forward Jordan Butler, a MEAC All-Rookie Team honoree last year. He tallied 2.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game last year, and with Gaston’s transfer to Xavier, the 6-6 Butler has the early lead on cracking the starting lineup this season.

He will be pushed by freshman forward Alex Long, another newcomer the coaches are high on. At 6-8 and 220 pounds, Long adds some shooting touch to the post after spending a year at prep school. He will also be counted on to do some of the heavy lifting down low as one of just two players on the active roster standing 6-7 or better.

Two other newcomers include freshman center Moses Toriola and junior small forward Preston Bungei. Bungei is a hybrid 4 at 6-6, the type of player NSU has had success with recently. He averaged 11.8 points and 8.6 rebounds last season at Trinidad State Junior College. At 6-10 and 230 pounds with a wingspan at least six inches greater, Toriola is an impact player on the defensive end but is still a raw prospect. Nevertheless, his size could prove vital for a program that did not have a true center last year and lacks few options in the post this season.