Cubs Rally in Fourth Quarter For Win in Hoops Season Opener

Graham Barker, Editor in Chief

U of D basketball beat Ferndale 57-55 with a stunning fourth-quarter comeback in their season opener at home Tuesday evening.

In just the first minute after tip-off, Cub junior Ryan Hatcher hit a corner three and collected a Ferndale turnover, sending “The Den”, the newly-named Cub student section, into an early frenzy. However, after Ferndale got their first points almost 2 and a half minutes into the game, the Eagles grabbed all the momentum, jumping out to an early 9-3 lead. A 6-point first quarter from the Cubs saw too many turnovers, a slow, struggling half-court offense, and resulted in a 10-point deficit.

In the second quarter, after Coach Pat Donnelly dialed up a full-court press and zone defense, the Cubs got pesky on the defensive end, getting their hands on the ball more and forcing turnovers. This led to a much better defensive output, only allowing 9 points in the quarter. 

Offensive production increased too as, although half-court creation was often lacking outside of senior guard Sonny Wilson, the ball was forced inside to create more high-percentage looks which eventually began to fall. 

A banked-in buzzer-beating three from Cub junior Gerrard McCoy cut the Ferndale lead to 25-20 at the half. Despite some missed shots at the rim and poor shooting from the free throw line, it seemed like U of D would eventually be rewarded for their shot selection, string together stops on defense, and pull away.

But the third quarter proved otherwise. The Eagles came out of halftime on a 12-4 run, leading by 13 halfway into the third when Sonny Wilson went down and left the game after getting his legs tangled up with a defender on a fast break drive. If things weren’t working before, it seemed they surely wouldn’t now. Although Wilson re-entered the game a few minutes later, the Ferndale lead got up to 14.

The final eight minutes started with five straight points from Wilson, cutting the deficit to 9, before the star guard again left the game, this time hobbling on one foot to the trainer’s room, not to return for the remainder of the game. Although Wilson was gone, the momentum remained, and The Den was roaring. 

Without their top scorer and primary ball-handler, sophomore guards Leroy Blyden and Xavier Johnson were thrown into the deep end, and they responded. The backcourt tandem stepped up and had a massive fourth quarter, combining for nearly 20 points in Wilson’s absence. 

Johnson did most of his work in transition, outrunning Eagle defenders to the basket several times, including a dunk that made The Den lose their minds. Blyden’s confidence and calm presence on the perimeter flashed, nailing a huge step-back three late and running the half-court offense with poise.

The scoring explosion was matched with increased defensive intensity, and the Cubs went on a 20-4 run through the first 5 minutes of the fourth, taking their first lead since the score was 3-2 with under three minutes to go.

Thanks to just-good-enough free throw shooting and solid defense down the stretch, the Cubs held on to the lead to win by two, 57-55. Wilson was the leading scorer for U of D with 15, and Johnson, Blyden, and senior Zavier Banks were all in the double digits.

Eyes will now turn to Sonny Wilson’s health, if the free throw shooting will improve, and whether Tuesday’s dominant fourth quarter will be the rule or the exception for this season. U of D will face Clarkston next, 4:30 pm this Saturday at UDM’s Calihan Hall.