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Road to tourney could put Rams back on road

February 26, 2008|By BOB PARASILITI

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - At times, it has been a rough road for the Shepherd University men's basketball team.

And even while taking that all into account, there is only one thing coach Ken Tyler and the Rams would like to do.

That's extend the trip.

Shepherd has endured a challenging schedule and inconsistent play but still got to its first destination - a 7 p.m. home game in today's first round of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. And if the seventh-seeded Rams can knock off No. 10 West Virginia Wesleyan, they will get the ultimate reward - another road trip.

"One of our goals every year is to get to the Charleston Civic Center," Tyler said. "We want to do that, but in order to, we have to win (tonight)."

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Shepherd (15-12, 9-11) has had a habit of creating its own challenges and then meeting them just to get to this point. For the best example, no one has to look any further than last week.

The Rams allowed a win to get away when they were unable to hold off Fairmont State on Thursday. The loss could have been crippling, especially it they would have lost in Saturday's regular-season and home finale against regular-season champion Pitt-Johnstown.

The Rams managed to pull it all together and scored a 73-68 upset win. It was the difference between playing the first round at home or on the road.

"Our backs were against the wall," Tyler said. "On Thursday, we played hard but we came up short. On Saturday, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was a great performance by the guys on Saturday.

"That victory was big in so many ways. It saved us six hours on a bus because we would have had to play at Concord in Athens, W.Va., probably the furthest point away from here. And it saved us a lot of money. It has been a rough road, literally, for us."

The Rams have been the kings of White Line Fever this season. Shepherd had a stretch of playing 11 games in 23 days, including seven on the road. That included three consecutive weekends of playing Thursday and Saturday away from home.

Somehow, it all worked out with Shepherd earning the seventh seed, which may not be the best, but it is far better than the alternatives. The Rams are 10-5 at the Butcher Center, including a 76-66 win over Wesleyan on Feb. 4.

Add to it the fact history has home teams holding a 65-14 record in the first round of the tournament, but victory isn't a given.

"There is usually one upset in the first round of the tournament," Tyler said. "We don't want to be that one."

The formula for a win is far from standard. The Rams enter the game without one player being voted to the All-WVIAC's top three teams. The only Shepherd player to earn any honors was Liki Turner, who was voted the conference's Freshman of the Year.

"This is the first time that I have not had an all-conference player," Tyler said. "But, we have been preaching that our team is our best player. It's cliche, but it's true."

Turner (14.3) and Justin Jarman (13.9), a center who transferred from Virginia Military, have been Shepherd's leading scorers. From there, it's anyone's game, and usually is.

"The best we have to make a difference is Jarman," Tyler said. "There aren't very many teams who can match up with him. Opponents have sagged in on him and forces guys like (guards Jonathan) Motichka and (Fred) Lyman to step up and hit from the outside to open things up. That's fine with me."

The Rams have taken turns at being the dominant player on a game-by-game basis, which is a blessing and a curse. Against Wesleyan, for example, Derek Gallagher was one of four Shepherd players in double figures with 19 points, while Turner added 16 points and 17 rebounds.

It's all take Shepherd to this point.

"We need to be confident but not overlook anyone," Tyler said. "We challenged the guys after Saturday. We told them to enjoy the win, but don't waste it. The reason we wanted to win was to get a home game, but that win has no value if we don't win (tonight)."

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