Last year’s first-round tournament loss fuels MC Scots fire

Head men’s basketball coach Randy Lambert has enjoyed a rich tradition of success at Maryville College with 630 wins since his first season as head coach in 1980. His name is even on the court on which the Scots play. Despite an 18-7 record in the 2013-2014 regular season and being seeded first in the USA South Conference Tournament, an unforeseen loss to Greensborough in the first round spoiled the team’s chances of further greatness as well as a spot in the NCAA DIII National Tournament.

This season the Scots have been chosen as the favorite to win the USA South by the preseason coaches’ poll and are ready to avenge last season’s let down.

“I hated losing that game, it left a very bitter taste in my mouth and I hope the players feel the same way,” Lambert said.

“We got beat a lot earlier than we should have and I think everybody knows that,” said junior center Logan Brewer.

Preparing for a return to the top, the Scots endured a rigorous off season conditioning program as well as a productive start to practice on the court.

“Coach Greg [Hernandez] put us through a pretty strenuous weight lifting and conditioning program throughout the summer and pre-season, and I think coming into practice in good shape really helps, it will help us down the stretch too,” Brewer said.

“So far practice has been fairly good, I feel like we are ahead of schedule in our offensive and defensive schemes,” Lambert said.

This year’s team has showed its strengths throughout the pre-season events.

“Our strength is our experience, and I also feel like we have respectable depth,” Lambert said. “We have players who have been in our program for a couple of years now, and they seem ready to give greater contributions.”

Sophomore wing Wesley Murray said, “I think the strengths are that the bulk of our scoring is coming back from last year’s offense, and we also have really great leaders on and off the floor.”

The Scots only graduated two seniors last season and return 89% of their scoring offense. Seniors Christian Ford, Oscar Butler and Spencer Peake will serve as leaders on and off the court for the Scots. Ford, point guard, was a major contributor to Maryville’s 82.3 points per game last season, averaging 10.8 points per game. Butler was also a force, averaging 12.9 points per game.

“They have started most the time in their past and seem to be very focused on finishing their careers in a positive way,” Lambert said. Christian Ford has started for the Scots for his entire career at MC.

An obvious advantage for the Scots is the return of junior Jaumonee Byrd. The six-foot-seven-inch center was a standout on the court last season, averaging nine rebounds per game and scoring 18.6 points per game, earning Byrd USA South Conference Player of the Year and All-South Region First Team honors.

“It meant a lot and it really showed me that hard work, determination, faith can take you a long way,” Byrd said. Lambert stated that Byrd has had a good offseason and that fans should expect even better things from him this year.

Byrd’s inside presence will undoubtedly affect how opponents guard the Scots, but sophomore wing Tanner Torres believes the Scots are ready to adjust.

“People will double-team Jaumonee for sure, and we will see a lot of zone defense, so our wing players will have to be able to knock down open shots,” Torres said.

To combat teams focusing on the inside play of Byrd, Maryville will rely on perimeter players including junior wing player Spencer Shoffner. The junior has battled a back injury during the preseason but has returned to full practice. He averaged 12.1 points per game last season and will play a critical role in the offense.

“I feel like he has a big up-side to his game and he should be one of our leading scorers this season,” Lambert said.

“Shoffner is going through a couple of injuries right now, but he is one of our main shooters,” Byrd said.

Several freshmen will also be called upon this season.

“I like the play of a couple of our new players,” Lambert said. “Jaylen Bowyer and Sam Green are two freshman that should see a substantial amount of time.”

Bowyer played 31 minutes and scored ten points in Maryville’s scrimmage last Wednesday against Carson-Newman University, while Green played 20 minutes and scored six points.

The Scots play will have to be top-notch as they progress through a brutal regular season schedule. Throughout the course of the 2014-2015 season, Maryville will face three teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation in addition to their tough conference match ups such as LaGrange College and Averett University. The top-25 match ups include Center College, Virginia Wesleyan and rival Emory and Henry.

“Those will be some big games we need to win to get our name out there again,” Brewer said.

“All our games are key, but I am looking forward to playing Greensborough because they are the ones that put us out of the conference tournament, and LaGrange is also a rivalry that always gets under your skin,” Byrd said. “I think these games give us the privilege to really show how good we have gotten.”

Lambert emphasized the Averett game. “I think they are picked to finish second in the conference, so that will be a critical game for us,” he said.

“I think everybody is more focused [this year] on not overlooking anybody and taking it one game at a time,” Torres said.

After many years of success, Lambert brings the same enthusiasm to every season.

“I’ve got a lot of good help,” he explained. “My assistant coaches know my philosophy of the importance of competing in every practice as well as the importance of preparation.”

The good help Lambert spoke so highly of comes in the form of assistant coach Greg Hernandez, who is in his second season coaching the Scots after an All-American career at MC.

Coach Raul Placeres will also lead the Scots after being promoted to assistant head coach this year.

MC will begin the 2014-2015 season by hosting Center College on Saturday, Nov. 15.

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