Muhlenberg captures big road win against rival Moravian, boosting hopes for a stellar season ahead
By Jason Grant
Asst. Sports Editor
The Muhlenberg men’s basketball team tipped off the 2019-2020 season with a rivalry game on the road. The Mules traveled to Moravian College looking to smother their opponents with unmatched shooting. They did just that, going an incredible 61 percent from the field in the first half. The second half was more of the same, as Spencer Duke ‘21 went 9-13 and put up a career high 26 points to lead Muhlenberg to a close 95-87 win.
The victory avenged last year’s game against Moravian, which the Mules lost on their own hardwood 79-75. Clearly, they were determined to return the favor this year. For his performance, Duke was awarded with Centennial Conference player of the week, as his 296 points were the most by a Muhlenberg player in an opener since 1996.
Although Muhlenberg shot the ball exceptionally, 56 percent for the game, Moravian shot nearly as well at a 44 percent clip, resulting in a back and forth contest. After going into halftime with a 56-49 lead, Moravian came out with a vengeance in the second half, going on an 8-0 run to grab the lead. The second half remained close, and though Muhlenberg secured the lead back, Moravian kept closing the gap.
Duke was not the only one with a hot hand on Saturday. Dan Gaines ‘22 was equally as efficient, putting up 19 points on 9-11 shooting. Gaines regularly won Centennial Conference player of the week last year as a first-year student, and the game against Moravian illustrated that he has no intention of slowing down.
“I think the biggest thing for us was how well we moved the ball and made the extra pass,” Gaines explained. “Doing this opens up driving lanes for myself and my teammates and also leads to open shots from the perimeter. We knew we had to share the ball to beat a good team like Moravian.”
This bodes well for a young team that is hoping to improve upon a solid 2018-2019 campaign. The squad finished 12-13 overall last year, going 9-9 in the Centennial Conference and barely missing out on the final playoff spot. Gaines believes a strong start to the season is the key to meeting that goal.
“Getting the first win of the season is always important for the team’s confidence going forward, especially against an opponent like Moravian,” said Gaines. “You can always guess how good of a team you will be during the preseason, but won’t know for sure until you actually get out there for a real game.”
This year they hope to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2013-2014, and with a young core, they have a two- to three-year window to compete with the best in the conference. Center Justin Allen ‘23 grabbed 10 rebounds in his collegiate debut, helping Muhlenberg dominate on the boards and finish the game out rebounding the Greyhounds 44-28.
While the offense was firing on all cylinders and produced 95 points, Gaines knows that allowing 87 points is not a winning formula. “I think we set ourselves to high standards and want to make sure we continue to grow as a team as each practice and game goes on, especially on defense. We understand that we won’t win many games if we continue to give up close to 90 points a game, so that has definitely been a focus in practice.”
The men have three more games before hosting the annual Scotty Wood Tournament at Memorial Hall on Nov. 22-23. They do not open conference play until Nov. 26, but they aren’t taking any game lightly.
“We understand that if we hope to be successful we cannot take any of these things for granted,” stressed Gaines. “The great teams come ready to play every day regardless of how they feel.”