While Samford students may have gone home for Christmas Break on Dec. 13, the Samford Men’s Basketball team was just beginning a tough stretch of games that would lead them into the start of conference play.
The Bulldogs have had a tough schedule over the past month compiling a record of 6-8 over their last fourteen games. Samford started off that stretch with impressive wins over Morehead State and Houston Baptist. They then proceeded to stumble through the next six games with a 1-5 record, which included a hard-fought loss in Knoxville on December 19 against no. 1 ranked Tennessee.
The team got back in the win column by defeating The Citadel at home on Jan. 17, before losing two close games to Mercer and Wofford. To finish off the stretch, Samford lost a close game at home to ETSU, while earning wins over Furman and Western Carolina.
There are a few keys factors that have played into both the team’s hot start as well as their recent slide. First, the performances we have seen from both juniors Josh Sharkey and Brandon Austin have been exceptional. Sharkey, a second year starter from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, seems to have really taken command of the offense this year at the point guard position. He has had to play in the shadow of both Christian Cunningham and Justin Coleman for the past two seasons, and now that they are both no longer with the program, Sharkey has control of the point guard position.
Through 24 games this season, he has averaged 15.8 points, 7.7 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.7 steals per game. His ability to drive to the basket and also facilitate the ball to his teammates has been spectacular to watch this season.
Brandon Austin, a junior who had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, has had a breakout year as well. The 6’5 guard is averaging 13.8 points, five rebounds a game, and has shot 45% from the three-point line. He has delivered several huge performances in big-time games, including scoring 31 against Wofford and 28 against The Citadel. Both he and Sharkey seem to always be well-represented across the stat sheet at the end of the game.
One aspect that many questioned about this team was its youth and inexperience. There was a question of how fast it would take for a group made up of a large number of freshmen and transfers to develop chemistry on the court.
Out of the five players averaging in double figures for the Bulldogs, four of them had never played a minute for Samford until this season (Allen, Austin, Gordon, Guerrero). Freshman Robert Allen is second on the team in minutes played only to Sharkey and averages 10.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Other freshman such as DeAndre Thomas and Logan Dye have played meaningful minutes as well.
As the season continues and enters its final portion of conference play, it’ll be interesting to see how the youth, inexperience, and versatility of this team is tested. In an interview with Samford Athletics, Coach Scott Padgett talked about the new personnel on the team this season.
“Obviously there are a lot of new faces on this team,” Padgett said. “I think we have more size, length, and athleticism than we’ve ever had in the program. We have had a big emphasis on defense, and I think this team can go along way if the defense continues to come along.”
The Bulldogs will be in action next on Thursday, Jan. 31 against the ETSU Buccaneers at home in the Pete Hanna Center at 6:30p.m. (CST).
Collin is a sports writer for The Crimson. He is a senior finance major.