Fayetteville State men’s basketball team is defined by defense

·4 min read
Fayetteville's Jalen Seegars shoots over Virginia Union's Demarius Pitts during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Fayetteville State University.
Fayetteville's Jalen Seegars shoots over Virginia Union's Demarius Pitts during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Fayetteville State University.

The first time Fayetteville State and Virginia Union met this season, the Broncos hadn’t yet formed an identity.

Coach Luke D’Alessio was still getting a feel for his players’ strengths, finding the most productive rotations, dealing with injuries, looking for a formula.

“We couldn’t really compete with them last time,” he said. “They ran us up and down the court.”

The Broncos lost that game in Richmond by 14 points in late November, scoring a season-low 48 points with just one fast-break basket.

Fast forward to Tuesday, and Fayetteville State flipped those numbers by holding the Panthers to a season-low offensive output in a 53-45 victory at Capel Arena.

The difference, according to D’Alassio, is that the Broncos know who they are now.

“Defense has to be part of our identity,” he said.

Fayetteville State (11-6, 6-1) boasts the CIAA’s best defense, giving up just 60.9 points per game.

And the Broncos have the league’s second-best shot blocker in Zion Cousins, who averages 2.2 swats per game.

“We’re not a high-scoring team, so we pride ourselves on defense,” Cousins said.

As for his ability to protect the rim, the Washington, D.C., native credits playing volleyball at Frederick Douglass High School with perfecting his timing.

“Blocking shots is kind of like hitting a volleyball,” he said. “I’m not the biggest big, so I try to do other stuff to help my team win — blocking shots, playing defense and stuff like that.”

Fayetteville's Zion Cousins shoots over Virginia Union's Jaelin Gallimore during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Fayetteville State University.
Fayetteville's Zion Cousins shoots over Virginia Union's Jaelin Gallimore during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Fayetteville State University.

A 6-foot-9 graduate transfer from Howard, Cousins added three blocked shots to his CIAA-leading 37, along with 10 rebounds and nine points in Tuesday’s win.

Jalen Seegars posted a team-high 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. The All-CIAA first-teamer from Greensboro who played his first two years at UNC Asheville ranks third in the league in scoring (18.3 ppg) and fifth in the league in blocked shots (1.1 bpg).

“They had two shooters that were really hot this game, so we just tried to take them away and make other people score,” Seegars said.

“That was the main point of the game, getting stops and executing on offense.”

Throughout Tuesday’s game, Seegars came up with scores to stifle VUU’s runs. His twisting layup early on put the Broncos up 7-0 and they led by as many as 12 in the first quarter.

The Panthers (13-5, 6-2) stayed in striking distance, trimming their deficit to just two points more than once, but never taking the lead.

A 3-pointer by Tyriek Riley got VUU within 49-45 with 58 seconds remaining, but the Broncos patiently ran down the clock and Cress Worthy found Seegars driving for a layup that stretched FSU’s lead to 51-45 with just 35 seconds left.

A Cousins rebound and a pair of Koraan Clemonts free throws sealed the win for the Broncos.

This victory is a new reference point for the team who couldn’t slow down the Panthers earlier this season.

Fayetteville's Cress Worthy shoots over Virginia Union's Darius Hines during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Fayetteville State University.
Fayetteville's Cress Worthy shoots over Virginia Union's Darius Hines during the first half on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at Fayetteville State University.

FSU had started to find its rhythm before Christmas break with four straight wins, three of them in conference.

Coming out of the break, its next five games would be canceled or postponed due to COVID-19 protocols, keeping the Broncos out of action for nearly a month. They picked up on Jan. 15 with a win at Johnson C. Smith, and they played three games in the next six days. Those three games were against the CIAA’s top teams, and the Broncos went 2-1 with their only loss coming to Southern Division-leading Livingstone in overtime.

With this year’s tournament seedings determined by overall league records instead of division records, the Broncos have overtaken Virginia Union at the top of the combined standings.

There’s a lot of schedule left between now and the Feb. 22-26 tournament in Baltimore, but Fayetteville State knows how to define its own game, and that’s built on defense and execution.

The Broncos will be tested again with a run of three games in five days starting Thursday at Claflin, but D’Alessio has prepared his team with a run of five games in nine days earlier this season.

“They probably like playing more than practicing,” he quipped.

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Sports editor Monica Holland can be reached at mholland@fayobserver.com.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Fayetteville State men's basketball relies on defense to lead CIAA

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