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Men’s basketball dominates in opening-night win

The Stanford Cardinal take down Seattle 96-74 in Maples Pavilion behind KZ Okpala

Sophomore forward KZ Okpala (above) led the Cardinal in their victory Tuesday night, putting up 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. (BOB DREBIN/isiphotos.com)

Stanford men’s basketball (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) tipped off its season against Seattle University (0-1) with a 96-74 victory last night. After a slow start and a four-point halftime lead, the Cardinal were able to dominate the second half for an impressive win in the season opener.

Head coach Jerod Haase elected to stick with the same starting five that led Stanford to a 75-59 victory in an exhibition against Sonoma State, which meant sophomore forwards KZ Okpala and Oscar Da Silva, senior center Josh Sharma, freshman guard Cormac Ryan and sophomore guard Daejon Davis were the first players to see minutes for the 2018-2019 season.

The starters were phenomenal to begin with, winning the tip, scoring on the first possession via a Davis layup and forcing a Redhawks shot clock violation on defense. Ryan hit his first shot as a Cardinal, a three to put his team up 7-6. His hot hand from three-point range would be one of the highlights of the night. He finished with 16 points in his debut on 5-6 from behind the arc.

Okpala was not surprised by Ryan’s red-hot debut performance. “Dude can really light it up,” said Okpala. “I saw it [the] first day he got here in pickup; this kid is coming in with no fear.”

That sentiment was shared by the head coach. “In a very positive way, [Ryan] is like a forty-year-old man. There’s a presence and confidence about him.”

After Stanford jumped out to a 10-6 lead, Seattle went on a run to lead 24-16, their largest margin of the night. During that stretch the Cardinal’s free throw percentage sank as low as 37.5 percent. However, the team was perfect from the line in the second half, and they recovered to 81.8 percent by the end of the game.

Midway through the first half, both teams were already in the penalty. This continued throughout the night, and the teams combined for a staggering 48 total fouls. For Stanford, this meant Davis was kept on the bench for long stretches in foul trouble as he finished with four.

Freshman forward Jaiden Delaire debuted early in the first half and made a huge contribution right before the break. With Stanford surging late, Delaire sank a three to cap off an 8-0 run and regained the lead with a minute left in the first half. Delaire finished two for three from distance with eight points, five rebounds and a block in 23 minutes. “He was the catalyst in the first half,” said Haase. “We were really struggling, and he shot the ball with confidence.”

Stanford held Seattle without a field goal for the final three minutes of the first half to lead 40-36 at the break. Seattle’s Anand Hundal was 4-5 from the floor and 3-4 from deep for 11 points in 10 minutes to lead the Redhawks in scoring in the first half, but he added only two in the second frame. For Stanford, Okpala had 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocks in the first half to lead the Cardinal in all four categories.

Both teams started the same lineup in the second half as the first. Ryan sank a quick three, setting the tone for a dominant 20 minutes as Stanford never looked back.

Although Stanford was committed to ball movement throughout the night, this strategy was largely unsuccessful in the first half, producing only four assists. However, the Cardinal were able to double that total in the second half to finish with 12.

“We were one pass away from really good offense,” said Haase. “In the first half we were making plays for ourselves, the ball was not getting out of our hands, there was no pace to our offense. In the second half we started to move the ball a little bit more, sharing the basketball a little bit more, thinking about our teammates first, and obviously it was pretty effective.”

Excellent three-point shooting was a theme for Stanford as five different players combined for 11 threes on 73.3 percent shooting.

Okpala wound up with a double-double adding 16 points in the second half to finish the game with 29, in addition to 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Nevertheless, his coach was quick to add, “three turnovers too.”

Haase continued, “The crazy part is that ceiling is a lot higher than where he is right now, and so we’re going to continue to try to push him, and I think he wants to be coached.”

“I think that his leadership was big tonight,” added Ryan. “Not just scoring 29 points and having 10 rebounds but the attitude with which he came to the game.”

While after 10 minutes Stanford was held to 14 points, over the next 30 minutes they drained 82 more. Establishing a big lead allowed Stanford to close out the game while getting minutes and more importantly experience to bench players, who added 24 points of their own.

“I liked that when we got the lead to 15, 16, 17, it grew to 20 and 22 and 23,” said Haase. “[The] last two years, I don’t know if there were many times where we got a lead and were able to expand the lead.”

Ryan, who was the primary ball handler on many possessions throughout the night, will split a fair number of reps with Davis over the course of the season. “I don’t know what it’s going to end up being, if it’s 50/50, 70/30 or which way it would be 70/30,” Haase said.

“I do like him playing at the point. I think he is a steady force there,” Haase added. On the other hand, “With [Davis] at the point I think it’s going to be easier to get [Ryan] threes.”

Stanford will travel to North Carolina this weekend to play UNC Wilmington and No. 8 ranked UNC. Haase: “We need to go in with an attack mentality and a very business-like mentality.”

 

Contact Daniel Martinez-Krams at danielmk ‘at’ stanford.edu

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