Even though the Union University men’s basketball team has eight newcomers and returns two starters to this year’s team, the Bulldogs will look to defy the preseason expectation that they will finish sixth in the Gulf South Conference.
The Bulldogs ended their season last year falling in the second round of both the Gulf South Conference Championships and the NCAA DII South Region Tournament. They finished with a 21-11 record (13-9 GSC).
Head Coach David Niven hopes to improve on that this year. He says he will change things up offensively based on the new players he has.
“We’ll play differently based on personnel,” Niven said. “We’re going to have the ability to put the ball in the post more than we have in the past. We’ve adjusted some things offensively based on that. In the past, we’ve really played a kind of game where we relied on our guards to create shots for everybody else, and this year we’re probably looking more at our post players to create shots for our guards.”
The Bulldogs played their first exhibition game of the year Saturday, November 5, against Rhodes College in an exhibition game. Union won 139-108 in an offensive shootout that saw the two teams combine for 89 field goals made on 171 attempted. It was a game unlike any other, mainly because of Rhodes’ unique strategy of running a full-court press the entire game while substituting in five new guys seemingly every two minutes. By design, their style of play forced 25 Bulldog turnovers. Niven wasn’t a big fan of this strategy.
“Ideally in an exhibition game, you’re going to play someone that will prepare you for future opponents,” he said. “We won’t see that style of play again this year. There’ll be some teams that press us and there will be some teams that play a lot of players, but there won’t be anybody that plays at that kind of a pace that traps you on every pass if they can.”
The downside to Rhodes’ style of play was that they were called for 30 fouls. The Bulldogs capitalized on the Lynx’s aggressiveness, going to the foul line 36 times and knocking down 28 (77.8%). The Lynx were not afraid to launch the three ball. Of their 92 total field goal attempts, 62 were from beyond the arc. They made 21 of those 62 (33.9%). The Bulldogs’ offense just overmatched Rhodes as Union shot a staggering 64.6% (51-79) from the field in the game.
Niven said that “it was hard to get a real good sense of who we are after that game,” but was happy with the adjustments his team made throughout the game.
“We were able to make some adjustments in-game,” he said. “I told our players we did not prepare for that. We didn’t know that was coming, and so I thought that being able to make adjustments in the game was really good. We struggled the first few minutes trying to adjust to them. We don’t have a great sense of who we are after that game, but I thought there were some positives that came out of it.”
The Rhodes game also introduced Union fans to Charlie Wilson. The 6’ 8” junior forward from Pensacola, Florida put on a show for the Bulldog fans in attendance with multiple dunks on caliber with ESPN SportsCenter’s top-ten moments. As I mentioned in my previous article previewing some of the newcomers, Wilson definitely showed his ability to play around the rim. He finished the night leading all scorers with 35 points on 17-19 shooting, and also had 10 rebounds.
The only two starters that return for the Bulldogs this year are senior Ashanti Day and junior KC Goodwin. Last year, Day was the fourth leading scorer for the Bulldogs. The 6’ 6” guard played in all 32 games but started in 20. He averaged 12.2 points per game, and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 47.8% from the field. In the Rhodes game, Day finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists in 24 minutes played. Goodwin also played in all 32 games last year and started in all but one game. He averaged 7.8 ppg and led the team in assists with 93. Goodwin only played 19 minutes Saturday, scoring six points and dishing out four assists.
Union will host their first basketball games of the season this weekend in the Gulf South Conference/Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Challenge. They play Spring Hill College Friday, November 11 at 3:00 p.m., and LeMoyne-Owen College on Saturday, November 12 at 4:00 p.m.