Newcomers Casey Oliverson, a sophomore, and Race Parsons, a freshman, led the team with 11 points apiece, with Oliverson notching a double-double as he also pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds. Veteran Jayson Cheesman added 10 points for the Thunderbirds while Chris Nsenki and Cal Hanks each pitched in nine points.
“All of our incoming guys did a nice job tonight in terms of execution,” SUU Head Coach Nick Robinson said. “I thought all of our perimeter players did a great job, especially our incoming guys in terms of executing what we’re asking of them, but Casey’s energy and effort was fantastic. In 20 minutes, to have a double-double was pretty impressive.”
The game started slowly, as the Thunderbirds held a 3-0 lead three minutes into the game, but SUU never trailed and slowly heated up, especially in the second half. After hitting just 7-of-24 shots in the first period SUU converted 15-of-27 after the break.
“I think it was just some jitters,” Cheesman said about the slow start. “It was the first game of the season and typically that’s what happens, just get a little rust out and for some of the new guys it was their first time playing in a college game, it happens.”
The Thunderbirds led just 30-21 at the break but scored the first four points of the second half on a jumper by freshman Juwan Major and a layup by Cheesman and the Leopards were able to get it under double figures just twice the rest of the way, the last time at 15:24 when Weston Newell hit a pair of free throws to make it a 37-28 game.
Nsenki made it a 40-28 contest with a 3-pointer from the left wing, then Oliverson scored inside to give SUU a 42-28 edge with 13:16 to play and the game was never really in doubt again.
SUU wound up out-rebounding La Verne 44-35 and had a combined 15 assists, as all but three players had an assist and all but three had a rebound. In addition to Oliverson’s 10 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive end, Jaren Jeffery and McKay Anderson each had six and Hanks pulled down five. Drake Thomas had a team-high three assists. Alonzo Young had nine points and six rebounds to lead the Leopards.
“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Robinson said. “I was great to see everybody get an opportunity to play. I thought our defensive effort was very good tonight but I thought our defensive execution needed to improve. But it’s nice to see our guys share the basketball, 15 assists on 22 field goals is a real positive, multiple guys in double figures offensively, a few with nine, so it was a great effort first night out.”
“We’ve been practicing together for a long time, it feels good to finally play together in front of the fans and work together as a team,” Cheesman said. “I thought we worked really well together, everyone was passing the ball, sharing it, working hard on defense. Obviously we didn’t get off to the start we wanted but in the second half everyone got more comfortable and we were able to gel pretty well, especially for our first outing.”
“It’s nice to finally play in front of a crowd and get everybody in there and execute,” Nsenki said. “The freshmen are doing a good job, they’ve got to grow up here pretty fast but they’re definitely doing a good job.”