|Golden Bulls basketball shows promise with early-season success|
|Va. State win a statement for JCSU|
|Published Saturday, November 23, 2019 11:01 am|
|PHOTO | TROY HULL|
|Johnson C. Smith sophomore Justice Goodloe, who struggled at point guard last season, showed maturity in the Golden Buls' 84-75 win against Virginia State with 15 points and six rebounds against a single turnover.|
It’s early, but Johnson C. Smith isn’t playing like a last-place team.
The Golden Bulls’ 84-75 takedown of Virginia State in Thursday’s CIAA opener laid a marker: JCSU, picked next to last in preseason polling, is better than expected at 3-1.
“We try not to let the rankings bother us,” said Golden Bulls guard Cayse Minor, who scored 28 points against 2019 tournament champion VSU, which was second in the same poll. “We just put that on the board and use that as confidence moving forward. We’re trying to send a message. We were ranked 11th, which we think is disrespectful, so we just want to try to prove our point.”
It’s easy to find the chip on JCSU’s collective shoulder. The Golden Bulls return one player – Minor – who scored double figures for a from last season’s 10-18 squad. There were questions at point guard and there was no splash in recruiting. Yet, going into Saturday’s CIAA game against Lincoln, JCSU is playing better by playing together.
“We’re certainly satisfied with a few things about our development,” Golden Bulls coach Steve Joyner said. “We understand it is a journey, a game-by-game process, so we just have to continue to develop and grow.”
The early signs are encouraging. Four Golden Bulls scored double figures against Virginia State, sparked by reserve forward Nenad Milenkovic, a role player last season who drilled 5-of-8 3-pointers for 17 points. Sophomore point guard Justice Goodloe scored 15, including 9-of-11 free throws, with six assists against a turnover. The key newcomer, junior transfer Xavier Jones, dropped 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“The guys are buying in, they’re trying to listen to each other, they’re trying to listen to coaching more,” Joyner said. “We thought last year we were not a together team. We’re more of a together team this year and that results in us playing a little better defense. Most important, I think our team cohesion has been outstanding.”
That bond was tested by Virginia State, which twice whittled double-digit deficits to five points only to have the Golden Bulls respond by expanding their advantage to 16 points in the second half. That’s the kind of an opportunity they’ve been looking for.
“We worked the whole week for this game,” Milenkovic said. “It’s important for everybody because they’re winners from last year, they won the conference, they’re a tough team, they play team ball. They run their system, that’s why it’s one of the important games for us because we came from a negative record last year. We wanted to be in a good way this year.”
How good is yet to be determined, but through the first four games with a signature win against one of the CIAA’s top teams, the Golden Bulls believe good things can happen.
“We said to the guys this is the week we decide whether we’re going to be pretenders or contenders,” Joyner said, “and we think Virginia State is a heck of a test to tell us a lot about ourselves even though we’re at home and we have Lincoln coming in who’s beaten us twice in the last two years. We think this week and each and every game after this is going to tell us whether we’re contenders or pretenders.”
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