Vermont’s Hot Shooting Runs NJIT out the Gym
Annnnd this is why the road to the America East title goes through Burlington. Vermont put on an absolute clinic in their home opener at Patrick Gym, as Stef Smith and Ryan Davis had their way all afternoon against NJIT’s defense. Vermont Catamounts. Buy Stock Now.
Although the final score shows that the Cats only won by 14, Vermont had complete control of the game right from the get-go. The Cats jumped out of the gates with a 15-0 run to start the game. NJIT eventually settled down and started making shots, but Vermont’s lead would soon balloon to 20+. The Cats were simply too good, as they were able to consistently carry that 20+ cushion for nearly the whole game.
Being back in the friendly confines of Patrick Gym certain played a significant role in the Cats red-hot shooting. In the first half alone, the Cats made 10 three-point field goals. In their two previous games against UMass-Lowell, the Cats only had 10 combined made three-pointers. The game is a lot more fun to watch when players are hitting their shots.
The other notable revelation coming from the first half of play was the 17 assists Vermont was able to rack up. Again, in their previous two games against UMass-Lowell, Vermont only managed a combined 15 assists. You could argue that the hot shooting from Vermont boosted those assist numbers and while you’re not wrong, we saw the Cats put an emphasis on making that extra pass – why take a good shot when you can take a great shot?
Telling Stats & Notes – Vermont Catamounts
Stef Smith – 27 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 7-13 FG, 5-9 3PT
Ryan Davis – 22 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 0 turnovers, 10-15 FG, 2-3 3PT
Team – 92 points, 33-59 FG, 12-23 3PT, 35 rebounds, 21 assists, 14 turnovers
This looked like a completely different team than what we saw against the likes of UMass-Lowell. The hot shooting and smart passing certainly helped, but the return of forward Ryan Davis really solidified the Cats frontcourt woes. Davis, who finished last year as the America East Sixth Man of the Year picked up right where he left off, finishing with 22 points and 5 rebounds on the day.
With Davis back, Isaiah Powell was able to slide back over to his more natural four spot and looked much more comfortable as he reached double-figures (10) for the first time this season. Northeastern transfer Tomas Murphy also made his debut for the Cats. His floor time was limited to only six minutes, but Murphy would finish with 7 points and 2 rebounds in the abbreviated time. After the game John Becker noted that Murphy was probably at 75%. Given the quick turnaround with these back-to-back games, it’ll be interesting to see if Becker wants to give Murphy more time or ultimately decides to rest him.
Another pleasant surprise out of this game was the continued emergence of forward Nick Fiorillo. The big man out of Maine finished with 8 points in 8 minutes, including 2-3 from deep and looks to be a solid contributor for the Cats this year. Unfortunately there’s still plenty for Fiorillo to clean up, as he also managed to pick up 5 fouls in those 8 minutes of play. He’s young and still learning, so right now it’s just taking the good with the bad.
Before the game, there were some pundits who said Smith was a role player and wasn’t capable of carrying a team. Well, those pundits are eating crow tonight, as Smith looked incredible and every bit capable of carrying a team. Granted, Smith wasn’t as efficient against the River Hawks, but after his 27 point, 7 rebound outing he’s squarely back in the drivers seat for America East Player of the Year contention.
Freshman Georges Lefebvre also made his debut for the Cats in the closing minutes. Like all freshmen Lefebvre tried to play a little too quick at first, but the big man from up north showed glimpse of his potential with a nice block on one end and lay-up on the other. When Lefebvre secured his first collegiate points the Catamount bench went wild and showed why the energy and culture at Vermont is on a different level.
Telling Stats & Notes – NJIT Highlanders
Zach Cooks – 24 points, 12 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 turnovers, 7-18 FG, 3-9 3PT
San Antonio Brinson – 12 points, 2 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 turnovers, 4-7 FG, 2-3 3PT
Team – 78 points, 22-61 FG, 6-25 3PT, 36 rebounds, 10 assists, 10 turnovers
Typically when a team drops 78 points and only commits 10 turnovers they should have a decent shot at winning. That wasn’t the case in this contest, as Vermont dictated this game from start to finish. Towards the end it was clear that Vermont was easing back on defense as they were looking to just wrap up the game. You hear about “garbage time points” in football a lot and this is essentially the same thing.
Four Highlanders managed to reach double-figures – Cooks (24), Brinson (12), Miles Coleman (11), Dylan O’Hearn (10). Again, when a team is able to have balanced scorers they’ll typically have a chance to win, but this game falls into the exception and not the rule.
On paper NJIT really didn’t have that bad of a game. Clearly they were outmatched by Vermont from the opening tip, but it’ll be interesting to see what type of adjustments they make as the Highlanders try to counter Vermont in game two. Defensively it wasn’t great for the Highlanders, but when a team as talented as Vermont is hitting on cylinders there really isn’t much you can do to slow them down.
Cooks was one of the lone bright spots for the Highlanders throughout the game. Even though most of his points were essentially “given” to him by the Cats lax defense he still had an effective game and snatched a game-high 5 steals. The one issue is that Cooks led all players with 39 out of 40 minutes played. Cooks is without a doubt the engine for NJIT, but considering the game was out of reach and you have to prepare for game two in less than 24 hours, it would’ve made more sense to give Cooks some rest.
As much as I’d love the Cats to repeat their dominant performance it likely won’t play out as such. NJIT will make their adjustments and play better, but the Cats should still be able to complete the season sweep. Game two tips off at 2pm on ESPN+. Roll