Down 21 in the second half, the FMU men’s basketball team trimmed their deficit to seven against Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) with only four minutes remaining, but a 35-point performance by senior guard Angelo Sharpless proved to be too much to overcome, as the Vikings prevailed 107-87 over FMU in a Sunday, Dec. 30 non-conference matchup.
Junior guard Evrik Gary led the way for the Patriots with 20 points and ten rebounds, the third double-double of his career and second this season. Sophomore forward Dustin Jones and junior guards Chris Rhodes and Tyler Deihl each scored nine points.
Sharpless, one of the leading scorers in NCAA Division II, was true to form and as sharp as a thumbtack with a blazing 14 rebounds and four assists to go with his 35 points. Sharpless was 10-of-14 (over 71 percent) from the floor and 14-of-19 at the free throw line.
FMU Assistant Coach Sean Sweeney said that Sharpless was at the top of the list among players he’d seen in Division II.
“Sharpless is one of the best players we’ve played this year,” Sweeney said. “He is so physical and so strong.”
Sweeney also said that some other ECSU players were able to support Sharpless by getting good shot opportunities at the basket.
The Vikings hit the ground running thanks to an opening three-pointer by sophomore guard Glenn Patterson. With 3:16 left in the first half, ECSU had opened up a 20-point lead at 52-32. By the intermission, Sharpless had already scored 22 points and collected 14 rebounds. For many Patriots fans, all hope looked lost.
In the first 14:30 of the second half, the Vikings would keep their feet on the necks of the Patriots, not allowing FMU to get any closer than 13. But with made baskets and free throws by Gary and Jones, the Patriots clawed back with an 11-1 run. To make things all the more interesting, Tyler Deihl connected on a layup to slice the once seemingly insurmountable lead to just seven.
But missed FMU three-point shots and key ECSU made free throws would help the Vikings put FMU away, as ECSU outscored FMU 16-7 in the final 4:10 of the game.
As a team, ECSU shot 29-of-63 (46 percent) from the field, while the Patriots shot a woeful 29 percent (27-of-92). Elizabeth City State nailed 9 of 22 three-point attempts, while Francis Marion shot 7-of-35 from the three-point arc.
The Vikings had more rebounds (56-55) and assists (19-13) than the Patriots. FMU’s coaching staff probably won’t stress much about the low assist numbers, however, because the Patriots focus more on getting quick shots as opposed to running half-court offensive sets and setting up specific players.
Even in the loss, Sweeney noted that Evrik Gary has earned much respect from his teammates in the locker room.
“Evrik is our unquestioned leader,” Sweeney said. “Our other players look to Evrik as the guy.”
The win improved ECSU’s record to 7-3 while giving the Patriots their third straight defeat, dropping them to 4-4.
With a young team, one of the major concerns is always team chemistry and players keeping calm in the midst of adverse situations. In the midst of a losing streak, FMU starting point guard Clayton Williams said that the Patriots as a team are as confident as ever.
“Based on our shootarounds and our practices, you would have no idea that we’ve been losing some tough games the way we have,” Williams said. “We stay loose, encouraged and we have fun.”
The FMU club continues to battle in the thick of its Peach Belt Conference schedule.