By Zak Hudak
The men’s basketball team began their regular season with a 104-77 home win over the Oglethorpe University (Ga.) Stormy Petrels on Tuesday.
“They’re a good team and we came out prepared,” senior point guard Mike Florin said. “They beat us last year, so it was good to come back and get them this year.”
Emory outshot the Stormy Petrels from the field goal 52.6 percent to 39.0 percent, out rebounded them 51 to 33 and nearly tripled their assists, 23 to eight. Senior forward Alex Foster led the Eagles with a single game career-high 38 points, placing him third in the program’s history. Junior forward Will Trawick also put up 18 points, while Florin and senior guard Josh Schattie added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Over 30 minutes of play, Florin notched nine assists and suffered only one turnover.
“The way they were guarding him, [Foster] got some open looks,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said. “He can really score. It’s natural to him.”
Foster attributed his success to the opposing defense’s need to focus on the wings, where junior Davis Rao and Trawick, two strong shooters, play.
“I was getting open on the lane in one-on-one situations where I could score pretty easily,” Foster said.
By the time Oglethorpe had caught on, Foster was hot enough to score from anywhere.
“Whenever you start making layups, it feels really comfortable and I was able to knock down some threes in the second half,” he said.
Defensively, the Emory coaches’ scouting reports paid off.
“We had guarded all their stuff and knew all the players’ individual tendencies,” Foster said.
Meanwhile, Oglethorpe was disadvantaged by its inability to play their starting center, senior Jordan Kinney, who was out with an ankle injury.
“We lost the game on the defensive end of the court,” Oglethorpe Head Coach Philip Ponder said, according to the Oglethorpe Stormy Petrel Athletics website. “Not having Jordan was a major factor, as we couldn’t stop Foster from scoring.”
Since last season, the Eagles graduated three of their greatest contributors: forward Jake Davis, the winningest Emory men’s basketball player of all time, and guards Stephen Simmons and McPherson Moore.
“They set, along with the guys before them, a bar for our program that has been constantly rising, and we want to continue to raise the bar and find a way to get to the [National] Tournament and win games in it,” Zimmerman said.
Still, Foster believes that the team, as a whole, will fill their void.
“Last year, when teams would scout us, it was Jake Davis and McPherson [Moore],” he said. “None of us feel a crazy amount of pressure to put up a crazy amount of points. When someone’s feeling good, we know to give them the ball.”
Indeed, Zimmerman was more impressed by Foster’s 16 rebounds than by his 38 points.
“Those kinds of things are going to help our team,” he said. “Alex took what was given to him. It wasn’t forced.”
For Foster, the game proved that more than one Eagle has the ability to carry the team.
“Oglethorpe showed that we have multiple guys who could go off on 25 points on a given night and that can be really hard to guard,” he said. “It’s hard to prepare against us.”
The Eagles are a team of diverse talents that come in hand in various situations.
“Today, [Foster] may have 38, tomorrow he may have 12 and somebody else may have 20,” Zimmerman said.
This season, the Eagles had the luxury of going into opening day with game experience under their belts. In the summer, they traveled to Germany, adding 10 days of practice and four games to their preseason and on Nov. 8, they took on the Division I College of Charleston (S.C.) in an exhibition game.
“Preseason practices have been very competitive,” Zimmerman said. “Guys have really been competing. The Charleston game helps because you’re on the field against a team that’s bigger, stronger and more athletic, but the days of practice were the biggest thing that prepared us.”
Zimmerman and Foster agreed that the University Athletic Association (UAA) is one of the most difficult conferences in Division III basketball, but said that non-conference play is extremely important as well.
If the Eagles do not win the UAA Championship, for instance, they will need an at-large bid, in which the selection committee compares their conference against others, to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“Every game for us is a statement game, and we want to make a statement that we’re going to try to be the best team in our region,” Foster said.
Despite the excitement of conference play, which begins in mid January, the team is taking the season game-by-game.
“[We] haven’t even started thinking about conference play yet,” Zimmerman said. “We’re excited about our conference because we know it’s a great league, but every game we play is a big game in the South Region.”
The Eagles will take on Guilford College (N.C.) this Saturday at 4 p.m. in the WoodPEC.
– By Zak Hudak, Sports Editor