The 2019-2020 college basketball season opened up in Smithfield, Rhode Island Tuesday night, and Jared Grasso and his Bryant bulldogs suffered a heart wrenching loss to in state rival Brown 73-71 at the Chace Athletic Center. Bryant entered the game winless in their last 5 tries against the Bears from the ocean state. While the result wasn't what Bryant was looking for to open their campaign, there are a lot of takeaways from Tuesday night's contest that the bulldogs can build on, learn from and be happy about. In case you missed it here's what we learned about this year's squad in their opening night loss.
1). New Look Dawgs
Two words came to mind from the tip and into the early minutes of the first half. Athletic and long! It's pretty apparent Coach Grasso was seeking these qualities in this year’s recruited class. Transfers Mikail Simmons (6’9”, 3 for 7 from there) and Hall Elisias (6’7”, 9 points and 6 rebounds) saw significant time off the bench, while freshman wings Benson Lin and Charles Pride (both 6’4”) were part of the rotation.
2). Slow Starts Still Linger
As Coach Grasso would surely admit, last year’s group consistently came out flat to start games. It happened in the first round playoff matchup against Saint Francis, and it happened again Tuesday night as Brown jumped out to a 17-4 lead. However, give credit to the Bulldogs, as they didn’t fold and instead fought back into the game.
3). Ndugba rusty early in his return
Bryant's slow start was largely attributable to their leader being thrown back into the fray following his red-shirt season due a shoulder injury. The junior floor general appeared to make a concentrated effort in getting others involved and came off as a bit passive in the first half. In the second half however, he displayed much more confidence, attacking the paint and pulling up for mid- range jumpers, finishing 3 for 7 from the field to go along with 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers in 29 minutes of action. In due time he should prove to be a much more solid contributor on both ends of the floor.
4). Grasso comfortable with new toys
Grasso started freshman guard Benson Lin, and both Pride and transfer Ayo Dada saw minutes early. However, the most impressive newcomer was freshman guard Mike Green. He was the much-needed spark that helped Bryant dig themselves out of an early 13 point deficit. He displayed the skillset that Grasso wants in his ideal fast paced up tempo offense, as he was lightning quick getting the ball up the floor and showed the ability to create or himself and others. Transfer Mikail Simmons was also important to the Bulldogs offensive success, knocking down timely three-pointers, and with the absence of senior Bash Townes, who missed the game with an apparent ankle injury, it was just what the doctor ordered.
5) Still figuring out the defense
Bryant played man to man defense for most of the game, showing a full-court press at times, and for the most part looked improved from a year ago by holding Brown to a 48.1% eFG%. However, rebounding was an issue Tuesday night; they allowed the Bears to grab 35% of their misses, including some timely rebounds late. Senior forward Juan Cardenas battled foul trouble and spent significant time in the 2nd half on the bench (he played just 16 minutes total) really hurt the Bulldogs in that regard, though sophomore Pat Harding (10 rebounds in 22 minutes) gave them a much needed lift.