There wasn’t much of anything that went right for the Winston-Salem State basketball team during its long road trip through the CIAA.
The Rams limped home with two tough losses and a stint on the side of the road after their chartered bus broke down before a scheduled game with Elizabeth City State. That game was postponed until Jan. 16 because the Rams had to spend 2½ hours waiting for another bus that ultimately brought them back to Winston-Salem.
The broken-down bus wasn’t a very good omen for their next two games.
“I’m glad it wasn’t one of our buses,” Coach Cleo Hill Jr. of the Rams said. “But, you know, those things happen and we just moved on from it.”
The road trip started well with a win at Claflin, but then they had a 10-day break between games because of the postponement of the Elizabeth City State game. The Rams (4-5, 2-3 CIAA) had enjoyed plenty of success at home during the early portion of the CIAA schedule, but it didn’t carry over to the road.
“I would say our mindset wasn’t right and we went into those games differently,” said senior transfer Dontae Caldwell, who played at Md.-Eastern Shore. “We just felt like it was going to be the same type of thing on the road that we had at home and it’s not that way. You have to really focus more on the road.”
The Rams kept it close against Virginia State losing 84-78 and then almost stole one against Virginia Union before falling 63-59.
Hill welcomed back Justice Kithcart, a senior transfer from Old Dominion, who played the first two games and was averaging 19 points per game but suffered a right knee injury. Kitchart missed the next five games but in his return in the two losses struggled with his shot.
“Justice is trying to find his legs,” Hill said. “I can tell he’s not where he wants to be so his rhythm is off.”
In the loss to Virginia State the Rams ran into a hot player, Lual Daniel Rahama, who hadn’t done much in his previous games this season.
“We did pretty well against Virginia State, except for one guy,” Hill said about Rahama who scored 20 points. “The scouting report and the statistics had him 0 for 6 on 3-pointers for the season, and he hit 6 of 7 on 3-pointers against us. So that’s your game right there. Outside of that I thought we played well.”
With exams over the Rams have all this week to get ready to play at the Gaines Center on Saturday against St. Aug’s. It’s a week to focus on just basketball with the campus nearly empty.
“We just have to focus on the smaller things in basketball that don’t show up,” Hill said about this full week of practice. “Getting better closeouts, boxing out and ball reversal and doing other things can help you. With eight new guys some of that will lag so we’re getting there.”
Senior Rob Colon of the Rams says the week of practice will do a world of good.
“I say we have to come out in practice with a better mindset and be more focused,” Colon said. “We can’t joke around and just have to pay attention to detail. It’s not that hard to figure out.”
The Rams can improve to 2-0 in the CIAA’s Southern Division with a victory on Saturday.
“I think everybody’s minds are on basketball since we are done with exams and don’t have classes,” Colon said. “There are less distractions and if everybody gets their work done in practice we should be straight.”
While Kithcart was back on the floor for the Rams senior Julius Barnes missed the two losses with a foot injury. He was back in practice on Tuesday afternoon but on a limited basis. Hill said it will be a game-day decision if Barnes can play on Saturday.
“It’s a good week to get better,” Hill said. “I think everybody did pretty good on their exams and their classes and now we get a chance to clean some things up and finish the year out on a positive note. That road swing was tough and we didn’t even play one game and it was still tough.”
Caldwell said getting a win on Saturday before heading into Christmas break will be important.
“We just have to play hard and play disciplined and not get caught up in the crowd or anything like that,” Caldwell said. “We have to play hard and play with a chip on our shoulder.”