Just like last season, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks kicked off their 2016-17 campaign on the road against a high-calibre team.
With preseason expectations surrounding the Hawks ranging from a 5th-place finish in the MEAC to 11th, many were unclear as to what they would see from the team on opening night. Losing two senior leaders from last year, in Devin Martin and Dominique Elliott, left holes in the lineup, but also presented opportunities for others to step up.
The Hawks went on the road to take on the George Washington Colonials in their season opener. The Colonials, led by Tyler Cavanaugh, are the reigning NIT Champions.
On paper, it looked like the Colonials would cruise past the Hawks, But, that’s why games are to be played, because anything can indeed happen on the court.
Despite trailing by 10 at halftime, the Hawks launched a comeback in the second half to try and close the gap and take a lead of their own.
In the end, their comeback efforts would fall just short, and the Colonials held on for the 75-71 win to open the 2016-17 season.
Senior forward Bakari Copeland scored a team-high 21 points for the Hawks, while shooting 3-of-4 from three point range on the night. Newcomers Logan McIntosh and Michael Chambers chipped in with 6 points apiece off the bench.
Cavanaugh led the way for the Colonials, scoring a game-high 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Yuta Watanabe recorded 18 points of his own, doing most of his damage from the free throw line, where he was 10-of-12 on the night.
Eastern Shore hung with the Colonials for most of the first half. A jumper from Chambers brought the Hawks to within two points, at 19-17, with just over 8 minutes to play in the half.
From there, the Colonials went on a 13-5 run to close out the half, stretching their lead to double-figures at the break.
George Washington opened the second half the same way they ended the first, putting together a run to stretch their lead even further.
An 11-2 run, capped off by a three pointer from Jaren Sina, pushed the Colonials’ lead to 19 points, at 43-24.
The Hawks were down, but certainly not out of the game. With 11:00 minutes showing on the clock, Chambers hit one of two free throws, and Eastern Shore went on a run of their own to eliminate most of their deficit.
Over the next four-plus minutes, the Hawks went on a 17-4 run to bring themselves within five points, at 55-50. They were right back within striking distance, and momentum was squarely in their corner.
George Washington answered right back, hitting their free throws and pushing their lead back to 12 points with just over 3 minutes to play in the game.
Credit the Hawks for continuing to fight down to the wire. A three pointer from Ryan Andino brought the Hawks to within 4, at 71-67, with 1:26 left to play. They would get to within 3 points with a few seconds left on the clock, but were never able to overtake the Colonials down the stretch.
George Washington successfully defended their home court on opening night, escaping with the 75-71 win over Maryland-Eastern Shore.
When their backs were against the wall, the Hawks showed a ton of fight that will undoubtedly lead them to wins as the season progresses. They showed themselves, and the nation, that they aren’t to be taken lightly this season, and are a sleeper pick in the MEAC in 2016-17.
The Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (0-1, 0-0) return to Hytche Arena on Sunday afternoon for their home opener, as they welcome the UMBC Retrievers to Princess Anne, MD.
– T. Bennett