Forced to play without one of its standouts last night against Frederick, No. 15 Westminster spent the night missing its mark.
With forward Chris Prior sidelined with a back injury, the previously unbeaten Owls fell behind at the outset and never recovered, getting out-rebounded by a wide margin and failing to hit their shots from the perimeter in a 71-50 loss to the visiting Cadets.
Though the Owls (8-1 overall, 0-1 Monocacy Valley Athletic League, Chesapeake Conference) got strong performances from 6-foot-5 center Jarrod Randall (12 points, nine rebounds) and returning county Player of the year Ryan Carr (24 points), they were dominated in the paint by Cadets center Robbie Davis (18 points), who spent the night scoring layups and grabbing offensive rebounds.
"It was the difference, and the only difference in this game," Westminster coach Brett Kanther said of Prior's absence. "I'm not here to make any excuses, but we did miss him a great deal."
The 6-4 Prior, who is averaging about 13 points and 13 rebounds, is being held out by doctors pending the results of tests to determine if he has a fractured vertebrae. With a positive test result, he could be back as early as Friday.
With Prior out of the picture, however, Frederick (4-3, 2-0) dominated, breaking out to a 19-10 lead after the first 8:30 and stretching the lead throughout the game. The Owls trailed by as many as 24 and never got closer than 12 in the second half.
"We just tried to get [the ball] down low," Davis said.
"Our game plan every night we play is to get the ball inside," said Frederick coach Derek Shackelford, whose team broke a two-game losing streak. "We can score efficiently when we get the ball down low."
Frederick had nearly as much success with its backcourt, with guards Bradley Wiley (10 points) and Anthony Blackwell (14) consistently driving in for layups and hitting mid-range jumpers.
Westminster's best chance to cut into the deficit came after halftime, when the Cadets hit just two of their first 10 shots.
The Owls couldn't take advantage, at one point misfiring on eight straight shots, including six straight three-pointers.
"We got on their three-point shooters and did the things we had to do to put them out of rhythm," Shackelford said.
"Our guards needed to step up, and they didn't," said Kanther, whose team finished 5-for-18 from beyond the three-point arc. "But the bottom line today was rebounds. We did not rebound."
Now, the challenge for Kanther is to get his team refocused as it prepares to travel to Frederick on Friday to play powerful Thomas Johnson.
Kanther said his team's first loss may ultimately turn out to be a positive influence.
"You can learn a lot more from a loss than a win," Kanther said. "I think we'll be fine. We'll be focused."