A trio of Coyotes scored over 20 points in a 90-74 win over Northern Arizona (1-1) at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center Monday night.
Two of those Coyotes posted career-highs in points. Junior guard Triston Simpson scored 24 points, making six of eight shots while recording five rebounds and five assists. Junior guard Tyler Peterson finished with 23 points, six rebounds and three assists, shooting 56 percent on 14 attempts.
“But that seems to happen every night,” head coach Todd Lee said about their new personal marks.
The third Coyote had a different type of career highlight.
Minutes before tipoff, Brandon Armstrong heard his name announced among the starters for the first time in his Coyote career, then hit six of seven three-pointers, proving why his teammates call him ‘the Walking Bucket’.
“The one I missed I was really open, so I was mad at myself about that,” Armstrong said. “I shot one early and it went in and got some confidence. Then the next two went it and I was like ‘okay just keep shooting’. I was wide open. They weren’t closing on me.”
Not only did Armstrong finish with 22 points on seven of nine shots, but he also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, something Lee wasn’t expecting but made him “look good” as a coach, Lee said with a smile.
“I told him in the locker room I would’ve lost a lot of money if I would’ve bet that,” Lee said. “We basically have four starters, and we need a fifth, with (Tyler Hagedorn) out. Brandon’s been practicing better. He can get hot and make shots, and the things we run get him shots.”
The game changes as a starter, Armstrong said, compared to coming off the bench.
“Coming off the bench, I was trying to feel the game out. Starting, you actually get to feel the game,” he said. “That was a big difference to me.”
USD, now 2-0, shot an efficient 54.5 percent, won the rebounding battle 36-25, and forced 14 turnovers. Lee said senior forward Trey Burch-Manning and junior guard Cody Kelley didn’t play great (Burch-Manning scored four points and him and Kelley accounted for seven of the team’s turnovers), but it was promising to see other players step up.
“It’s good to win by 16 points with two of your better players not playing very well,” Lee said.
The Coyotes held Northern Arizona, their first Division-I opponent of the year, to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half, but in the second, NAU hit seven of 12 three-pointers, six coming from sophomore Carlos Hines and junior Ted McCree, who led the Lumberjacks with 16 points each.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get some guys motivated to play some NAIA teams, so we were really excited for a Division-I opponent,” Simpson said. “We knew coming in that they were gonna be an aggressive team and we saw that.”
Simpson is showing his own aggressiveness at the shooting guard spot, where he moved from point guard after Kelley’s arrival from Wyoming. Averaging 8.5 points per game last season, Simpson has evolved into the top offensive option, scoring 23 and 24 points through two games this season.
“The two needs to be aggressive at all times,” Simpson said. “There were some games last year where I was aggressive, but the coaches were on me at practice about being aggressive every single day, not only at practice but during games.”
Lee said his leading scorer is “doing a great job”, but he’s monitoring the effect of Simpson’s increased usage after he cramped during the game.
“He’s hard to guard, can finish either way, tough on a closeout, and shooting the ball well,” Lee said. “I think at times, he just wears down a little bit. We need some more rest for him.”
Rest is going to be a concern during the team’s next string of games in the Bahamas, a popular destination for those who need it. The team plays High Point on Friday, and either UMBC or Air Force in the two days following. In March, UMBC downed Virginia by 20 points, becoming the first 16-seed to defeat a one-seed in NCAA tournament history.
“It’s gonna be a challenge. Guys are gonna have to step up off the bench,” Lee said. “We’ve got three games in four days, similar to the Summit League tournament. That’s the advantage of doing one of these things. You get to go a beautiful place, but we’ve gotta get bench production.”
Gallery: USD vs. Northern Arizona, 11/12/18