SMITHFIELD, R.I. – It’s sure to get missed by many for a lot of reasons, but Bryant’s 87-64 win over Vermont on Saturday is a very impressive and noteworthy one for the program. While the Bulldogs didn’t exactly knock off a perennial Final Four team, they didn’t have to. They scored a significant home win for the first time in their Division I history.
In their Division I history, Bryant has scored some nice wins, with many of them coming in the breakthrough season they had last year. They beat the likes of Boston College, Lehigh and Robert Morris, but all of those wins came on the road. They had chances at home – in past years against Harvard and Lehigh most notably, as well as some of the Northeast Conference’s best – but had come up empty. They had an NEC Tournament game at home and hosted Richmond in the CBI, but lost. And while they beat Mount St. Mary’s, who got to the NEC title game, during the regular season, that came before the Mountaineers became the conference’s hottest team entering the tournament.
On Saturday, they finally picked up a big win at home in front of a big and lively home crowd.
“As I pointed out to the guys before the game, in the big games we’ve had here, we’ve never been able to beat a team that was picked to win their league, a team with a track record like Vermont,” said head coach Tim O’Shea.
Vermont is America East’s signature program right now, a team that is used to playing on the road, and the upperclassmen have all played their share of road games. The Catamounts start five seniors, all of whom were part of the team that won an America East championship on the road two seasons ago. They have had to go on the road frequently in non-conference play, so this was nothing new for them. And to say that Bryant handled them is impressive.
“My point to the guys was this was an opportunity to have a statement game, because everybody knows Vermont is good and expects them to have a great season,” said O’Shea.
Vermont was able to hang around for most of the game, doing enough to stay within striking distance. But Bryant likewise did enough to keep them at a safe distance and never allowed them to get momentum to break through and possibly take the lead. They did it long enough to get to a point where they could break the game open, and they did just that over seven minutes into the second half with a 12-0 run that turned a five-point lead into a 17-point cushion.
The Bulldogs aren’t known for their defense, and that wasn’t the biggest reason they won this game. They shot nearly 56 percent from the floor, including 64 percent in the second half. But they did hold Vermont to 44.4 percent shooting and won the possession battle with a slim rebounding (34-30) and turnover (10 against Vermont’s 12) margin. They had a big edge in points off turnovers, though, at 21-5, and transition did a lot to help break the game open.
Dyami Starks remained hot with 30 points on Saturday, the third straight game he has scored at least that many. He became the first player in NEC history to score 100 points in a team’s first three games of the season, although there is a footnote. In 1997-98, Charles Jones of LIU scored 103 points in his first three games, but he sat out the first two, so they didn’t come in the team’s first three games. But any way you slice it, Starks is on a tear to start the season, shooting over 54 percent from the field and 12-27 on three-pointers. As a team, Bryant is shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.
Much of that is owed to the way the team is running offense. Corey Maynard has had a seamless transition to full-time point guard duties, the latest instance being his ten assists on Saturday, which is a career high for the senior. A glue guy for much of his career, Maynard is now a key player, and people are getting to see how good he is.
“There was never any doubt that was the right move,” said O’Shea. “He’s a tough kid, he really knows how to play, he’s a veteran.”
Alex Francis had 22 points and nine rebounds, and O’Shea said he can see Francis and Starks developing quite a chemistry. Francis has evolved from a guy who puts up numbers into a leader, a welcome development that few saw coming. The senior has learned how to draw defenders and help others, and with everyone buying into that, the offense is running smoothly. Starks has been the ultimate beneficiary in the box score, but he’ll be the first to admit that his success is a big reflection of his teammates’ play.
“My teammates were really good at getting me the ball in spots where I can just take one dribble and shoot, or catch and shoot,” said the junior guard. “Really, all it’s been about these past three games is getting as many easy buckets as I can, so that when it’s late in the clock or you really need a bucket, you have a rhythm. These past three games, it’s really a credit to my teammates.”
Bryant has more opportunities like Saturday, and perhaps with this win under their belt they may take advantage of more of them. O’Shea is very happy he scheduled as he did so that this team has good preparation for NEC play and opportunities for good wins. This is a veteran team that is playing well together and now knows how to win. A signature win at home only adds to the confidence this team has that the way they play will help them win.