DAYTONA BEACH, Fl. — The Ryan Ridder era for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats is officially under way, and what a start it was.
The Wildcats opened the season with a home contest against the visiting Johnson University (FL) Suns. It marked the first regular season game for Ridder as the head coach of the Wildcats, and it marked the debut for several new faces with the program.
Malik Maitland and Soufiyane Diakite both transferred to the Wildcats from the Morehead State Eagles, and both made their debuts on Friday night against the Suns. Maitland found himself in the starting lineup, and make an immediate impact as the team’s new point guard.
Maitland finished the game shooting 7-of-9 from the field, recording 16 points to go along with a game-high 12 assists, and Bethune-Cookman cruised to the 108-66 win over the Suns to kick off the 2017-18 season in style.
Out of the gate, the teams traded baskets and the lead was only three for the Wildcats before the 16-minute mark. A three ball from Josh Grover brought the Suns to within 12-9.
From there, Bethune-Cookman reeled off a 15-0 run to push their lead to 18 points, at 27-9. Brandon Tabb kicked off the run with five points, Isaiah Bailey scored six straight in the middle of the run, and Jeffrey Altidort capped it with four straight points of his own.
The Suns rattled off a mini 7-0 run to trim the deficit to 11 points, but they weren’t able to get to within single digits. A two-point tip shot from Nick Byrd with 51 seconds left in the half brought the Suns to within nine points, but the Wildcats pushed their lead back to 15 by the break.
A quick 6-0 run to open the second half saw the lead for the Wildcats reach 21 points. The Suns continued to fight, but it was only a matter of time until the Wildcats put the game out of reach for good.
Armani Collins hit back-to-back three pointers, one on either side of the 14-minute mark, to push the lead to 29 points, at 77-48. The lead would only grow from there as the Wildcats closed in on their first win of the season.
Collins hit a pair of free throws with 3:52 to play to put the Wildcats at the 100-point mark for the night. They would cruise late in the second half to the 108-66 victory over the Suns.
Forward Shawntrez Davis, a former commit of the Nevada Wolfpack, opened the season with a double-double in his debut with the Wildcats. Davis went for a game-high 23 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, and 11 rebounds.
Malik Maitland and Brandon Tabb added 16 points apiece, while Armani Collins came off the bench to score 14 points in the win.
As a team, Bethune-Cookman shot 60.6% (40-of-66) from the field, and 57.1% (12-of-21) from three point range on the night.
Jaymeke Smith led the Suns with 15 points in the loss.
Following their win, Bethune-Cookman (1-0) now heads on the road for three straight games. Their next contest is Monday night against the UTRGV Vaqueros.
– T. Bennett