Sam Chandler, Managing Editor
The Bulldogs ran out of steam.
A four-month, 36-game season reached its conclusion Monday, March 20, when the Samford men’s basketball team suffered a 66-58 road loss to Liberty University in the second round of the College Insider.com Postseason Tournament.
Samford (20-16) finished the season with its first winning record since the 2005-2006 campaign, when it went 20-11.
“Looking at our team this year, I thought we made great strides,” head coach Scott Padgett said in a postgame radio interview. “I feel like we know exactly the things we need to work on to get better, to improve and to be a team that can win the SoCon next year.”
Padgett identified attention to detail as one of those key areas for improvement. Its absence on Monday cost his team the game. Liberty (21-13) turned 16 Bulldog turnovers into 25 points.
“I think our biggest issue was taking care of the basketball,” Padgett said. “That’s basically the ball game.”
Samford held its own early, but it couldn’t keep pace with the Flames. Liberty never trailed after taking a 19-18 lead with 6:32 left in the first half. Samford shrunk a 30-24 halftime deficit down to two points after a layup from senior forward Terry Brutus made it 38-36 with 12:26 to play.
But that’s as close as it got. Liberty built and maintained a three to four possession advantage down most of the final 10-minute stretch.
“When you’re trying to come back, you’re in scramble mode a little,” Padgett said. “There was a breakdown here and there, but I think the biggest issue was turnovers.”
Junior guard Demetrius Denzel-Dyson paced the Bulldogs with a game-high 19 points. A transfer from the University of Massachusetts, he led Samford with 16.1 points per game in his first season as a Bulldog.
Sophomore center Wyatt Walker (12) and freshman guard Josh Sharkey (11) joined their teammate in double figures on Monday. Walker also collected 11 rebounds to earn his 17th double-double of the season.
Samford advanced to Monday’s matchup by knocking off Canisius College on March 14 in the CIT’s first round, 78-74. Held in the Pete Hanna Center, it was the first postseason victory in school history.
“I think it’s huge that we had this postseason because it gave us a little more time together,” Padgett said. “My mindset was, ‘I’m using this tournament to prepare us for next year.’ Of course we were trying to win every game, but we were also going to try some things that I think can help us in the future.”
That future looks promising. Apart from Brutus, the Bulldogs will return their entire roster next season. The team also will benefit from the addition of Justin Coleman, a University of Alabama transfer who sat out this year due to NCAA rules, and incoming freshman Kevion Nolan.
Padgett said his 2017-2018 squad has the talent and potential to contend for a conference championship and vie for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We had some really good things go on,” Padgett said. “Now, we’ve got to build on them.”