By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Colonels overcame a 16-point first half deficit Sunday to down Radford, 83-75, for their third win in three days in the Comfort Suites Invitational at McBrayer Arena.
The Colonels found themselves down by 16 with 7:52 left in the first half, and down nine six minutes into the second half, before mounting a comeback.
EKU scored eight straight points, part of a 20-4 run, to pull to within one at 51-50.
After a free throw by Radford’s Javonte Green, senior Mike DiNunno’s long three pointer gave the Colonel’s their first lead of the game at 53-52. The Colonels never trailed the remainder of the game, building as much as a nine-point lead of their own.
“This is the first time that we’ve really been punched in the mouth early in the season. Last night we had to go into overtime and execute and make a couple of big plays to win the game (against Towson),” EKU coach Jeff Neubauer said. “Tonight, Radford came out and literally just punched us in the mouth.”
Radford was up by two when double technical fouls on DiNunno and Radford point guard R.J. Price — each player’s third foul — sent the two to the bench three minutes into the game.
From that point, Radford went on a 9-0 run before sophomore Robbie Stenzel hit a three pointer from the top of the circle that temporarily stemmed the tide.
But the Colonels scored only two baskets — a driving slam dunk by Marcus Lewis and a short jumper by Jeff Johnson — over the next four minutes as the Highlanders extended their lead to 16 at 32-16 with 7:52 remaining in the half.
After DiNunno returned to the floor, the Colonels began to regroup and mount their comeback beginning with a Tarius Johnson jumper and back-to-back threes by Glenn Cosey and DiNunno that cut the lead in half.
But the Colonels could get no closer than six and trailed by seven, 43-37.
DiNunno, who finished with 19 points, including five-of-seven three pointers, said it was hard to watch from the bench as the team fell behind, but he knew his teammates could fill the gap until he returned.
“It was frustrating. I think it hurt more that we got down after I went out of the game. But, that’s just part of the game and you’ve just got to push through it,” DiNunno said. “But I wasn’t worried about not being in the game. We are a lot deeper than we seem with the rotations. We have guys that are skilled at every position and I had confidence in my teammates that they would do the job.”
Neubauer credited the Radford defense for much of his team’s first-half inefficiencies, but said the Colonels created some of their own problems.
“Radford played incredibly more aggressive than the teams we’ve played to this point. So Radford did force some of those turnovers we had in the first half,” Neubauer said. “We had turnovers that were just not brilliant, but, this early in the season with this many new players coming into the system, these types of things are going to happen. What it came down to is that we were overly aggressive, we gambled too much. When we settled down and got solid we got stops.”
For the fourth game in a row, Glenn Cosey lead the Colonels in scoring with 20, but EKU once again got production from a lot of different players.
Corey Walden had a big night, with 14 points, one assist and one steal and hit two big three pointers. Tarius Johnson finished with eight points and five rebounds, while Stenzel, Marcus Lewis and Eric Stutz had four points each and Deverin Muff chipped in five while pulling down six rebounds.
Junior Jeff Johnson scored five points and grabbed four rebounds, but he also had five assists, some in the final minutes as the Colonels were trying to preserve their slim lead.
But it was his calming leadership when DiNunno left the floor that might have been the difference in the ballgame.
“Jeff Johnson is certainly one of our leaders and we need leadership coming from all different directions on this team, and he’s done a great job this year,” Neubauer said. “He’s a great passer, a great teammate and his teammates respect him and that is what allows him to lead.”
EKU is now 4-0 on the season. The Colonels have not won five in a row to begin a season since the 2004-2005 season which ended with the program’s sixth NCAA tournament appearance.
The Colonels return to action Saturday to take on Norfolk State at 7 p.m. at McBrayer Arena.