DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2017 calendar year is nothing but a distant memory.
With 2018 now in full swing, both the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats and the South Carolina State Bulldogs are hoping that the New Year brings with it new fortunes on the hardwood. Both teams struggled to close out 2017 and non-conference play, and they are hoping that they can get back on the right track in the New Year.
The Wildcats lost four straight games to close out the year, and have lost six of their last seven outings overall. As for the Bulldogs, they come into Wednesday night riding a two game losing streak of their own following a two game winning streak, and are hoping to get back to their winning ways.
With the match-up marking the start of MEAC play for both teams, there’s no better time than right now to get a win and build some momentum as the grind of conference play gets under way.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Wednesday’s tilt between South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman.
South Carolina State opened the 2017-18 season with six straight losses. Their first win came on November 28th against Morris College. Fans of the Bulldogs had to wait until mid-December before their team would pick up a win over a Division I opponent. They knocked off the Charleston Southern Buccaneers in overtime on December 18th, 91-88, for their third win of the season.
The Bulldogs followed up the win over the Buccaneers with a win over the Jacksonville Dolphins, but weren’t able to extend their winning streak past two games. They lost back-to-back contests to close out the 2017 calendar year, and enter the New Year as one of nine teams in the MEAC with double-digit losses.
Senior guard Donte Wright has been a bright spot for the Bulldogs this season, averaging a team-high 15.3 points per contest in his first season with the program. He is shooting 40.9% from three point range, and he has hit three or more three pointers in each of his past six games. Wright has recorded double-digit points in nine straight games, a stretch that included a 31-point outing against Brevard back on December 7th.
Add in the likes of Damani Applewhite (10.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and James Richardson (9.0 ppg), and the Bulldogs have some talented pieces who could turn a few heads in conference play. Their first test is a tough one, as Bethune-Cookman has their own underrated roster who is also looking to catch some people off guard this season.
With a 5-9 record after conference play, the Wildcats are already halfway to their win total from last season (10). They ended the month of November with a 4-3 record, entering December with a winning record for the first time. However, December didn’t go as planned, as the Wildcats went just 1-6 over the month.
Bethune-Cookman comes into the night riding a four game losing streak, with all four losses coming away from home. On their home floor, the Wildcats will be looking to bounce back and open up MEAC play on the right foot. They lost the only meeting with the Bulldogs last season, so they are looking to exact a little bit of revenge on Wednesday night.
Senior guard Brandon Tabb is the team’s top scorer, averaging 17.3 points per game in 12 contests. He is also shooting 95.1% from the free throw line, which is the fifth-best mark in the nation. Tabb has attempted 179 field goals this season, and 119 of those attempts have come from beyond the three point arc, where he is shooting 31.9%. He has the potential to go for 30+ points each night, but it all depends on if his shot is falling. If not, it could be a long night for the Wildcats.
When you factor in the additions of Isaiah Bailey, Malik Maitland, and Shawntrez Davis to the rotation for the Wildcats, the depth and makeup of the roster is drastically different than it was a season before. Including Tabb, all four players average double-digit points per game, and have acclimated to their roles with the team quite nicely. If Tabb can hit his shots, and Davis can continue to flex his muscle inside, the Wildcats could very well open up conference play with a big home win.
Players to Watch
South Carolina State – Janai Raynor-Powell
Junior guard Janai Raynor-Powell could be described as a Glue Guy for South Carolina State this season, as he does a little bit of everything on both ends of the floor for the Bulldogs. The native of Virginia Beach, VA is averaging 7.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 1.0 steals per game, all of which are vast improvements from his season totals in 2016-17. While Raynor-Powell contributes in many areas, one facet of his game that needs work is his three point shooting. After hitting at a clip of 32.5% (13-of-40) last season, he is shooting 18.8% (3-of-16) from beyond the arc in 2017-18. As the season moves along, his shooting percentage will surely increase. It’s the only red flag on an otherwise productive stat line through 15 games.
Bethune-Cookman – Shawntrez Davis
Despite two down games to close out the 2017 calendar year, junior forward Shawntrez Davis has put together a strong start to his time at Bethune-Cookman. The 6’9” forward is averaging 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, and is one of just four Wildcats to have played in all 14 games this season. Davis is shooting 51.4% from the field for the year, and 40% from three point range. He recorded just four points in each of the two games for the Wildcats in the state of Washington to close out non-conference play, but he does have seven double-doubles under his belt. Davis is the anchor of the front court for Ryan Ridder and the Wildcats, and will look to bounce back in their MEAC opener against South Carolina State.
Wednesday’s MEAC opener between South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman has the potential to go either way. Both teams are in need of a victory to spark some positive momentum to open the New Year, so you can bet that both teams will leave everything they have on the court.
Home court advantage goes a long way in today’s college basketball world, and while it doesn’t guarantee a victory, it’s certainly an advantage you’d rather have on your side. That, coupled with the fact that the Wildcats have a few more options of the offensive end, will lead Bethune-Cookman to the narrow victory in the MEAC opener for both sides.
Brandon Tabb will top 20 points, while Shawntrez Davis will flirt with his eighth double-double of the season in a bounce-back game for the 6’9” forward.
Bethune-Cookman – 87
South Carolina State – 81
– T. Bennett