It didn’t take Central Christian College men’s basketball coach Tony Romero very long to realize just how good he’s had it the last couple of years.
Experience has been the Tigers’ strength and last year it was four seniors who sparked the team to a 23-9 record.
In Central’s season opener here Thursday against KCAC member Kansas Wesleyan, Romero at times had an all-freshman backcourt, a far cry from last year when he had four-year mainstays Michael Gholston and Daniel Nwosuh. He also had a group of transfers playing their first Central game.
But the Tigers overcame their lack of experience to pin a 60-52 loss on the Coyotes behind a suffocating defensive effort.
“I thought our bench did a great, great job in the first half,” Romero said. “We fouled way too much. We were too antsy. I think we had our whole bench on the floor for a stretch of 6 or 7 minutes. They did a great job. I thought defensively we played really well, outside of fouling.”
Both teams suffered through a horrendous first half offensively. The Tigers shot 29 percent, but they were the hotter team as KW was just 4 of 19, while making only 6 of 18 free throws. The Tigers went into the break up 12, 26-14, and upped it to 36-21 early in the second half.
But the Coyotes stormed back and eventually used a 10-0 run to take a 45-44 lead. Central, however, later answered with a 9-0 lick and held on down the stretch.
“Offensively, we know it’s going to be a work in progress,” Romero said. “We’ve got a bunch of new guys trying to figure it out. We know they’re going to be a little nervous this first game. We missed some good shots that we have been making in practice. We’ll get better offensively, but defensively I was really, really proud of our effort.”
The Tigers struggled offensively due in part to foul trouble to star 6-8 forward Jubril Osagie. He played less than 2 minutes in the first half after picking up his second foul and was tagged with his third early in the second half. When he was on the floor, though, he was tough to stop as he scored 11 points in 13 minutes, one behind team leader Cam Martin.
Jordan McNelly, the former Salina Central star, topped the Coyotes with 12. KW finished the game just 16 of 54 from the field and 15 of 33 at the line.
Central hosts Barclay College at 7 p.m. Saturday at Alexander Arena.
Central (60) — Warren 6, Osagie 11, Martin 12, Lenard 5, Ard 5, Arnada 5, Jordan 2, Daniels 6, Williams 3, Kuminga 5.
KW (52) — McNelly 12, Neri 4, Gandy 4, Allen 11, Fulton 4, Ellis 2, Rammelt 2, White 3, Carter 4, Leach 6.