Two trips to the state of Ohio during the first week of the season for Detroit Mercy saw the Titans suffer back-to-back 30-point defeats, 94-60 by way of Toledo followed by a 93-61 loss at Cincinnati that was over at halftime. They looked sloppy and unfamiliar with one other, which is to be expected of a team that has still hardly played any basketball together, but the already undermanned Titans needed something to change Tuesday night in Oxford.
The team saw its first starting lineup change of the season as Donovann Toatley and Oton Jankovic did not make the trip, which led to both Marcus Tankersley and Mak Manciel getting their first career starts. This change also left 6-8 Edoardo Del Cadia with the tough task of being the lone big to guard 7-5 Ole Miss center Jamarion Sharpe.
The Rebels started out hot en route to a 10-0 lead, and it looked like it was going to be another long night for the Titans until a Marcus Tankersley outburst for eight consecutive points brought them back into the game. Tankersley finished with a career high 19 points, 15 of those in the first half, on 7-8 shooting. A start like this was something he was yearning for as he told me before the Cincinnati game, “all five of us need to be on the same page. When one or two guys aren’t giving the same energy then it can rub off on other guys.” While they couldn’t figure this out vs Cincy, this most recent Detroit Mercy group, which featured Trenton Johnson in the rotation significantly for the first time, was able to find a flow and tempo that made them look like a new team.
The ball rotated better on the perimeter, they got to the hoop at will, drew fouls and the defense executed well switching between a variation of defenses with much improved communication. This translated to the rebound battle as more guys were in position leading to the Titans coming out +5 on the glass over the bigger rebels. Del Cadia chipped in 10 rebounds for his first career double-double, making him the first Titan to touch this mark since Gerald Liddell did it against YSU in the Horizon League tournament last March.
The two teams traded buckets all game with six lead changes and five ties including some big shots outside from Jayden Stone. The senior guard finished with a team high 21 points on 8-21 shooting while pulling down 5 rebounds, seemingly making shots when it really mattered including a fade to the side jumper from the free throw line to beat the shot clock late in the second half. Stone has shown throughout the infancy of this season that he can be relied on to be a consistent scorer on command from not only long range but from off the ball cuts leading to easy high percentage layups at a high frequency. Stone and Tankersley can be a great duo that complement each other on both sides of the ball and should be able to generate steals to increase their transition offense. Del Cadia chipped in 16 of his own largely from tenacious paint work, but Trenton Johnson’s 8 points off of the bench proved crucial. The 6-2 Junior played 33 minutes and knocked down two threes including one to take the lead with 2:01 to go.
The Titans looked like they were going to push for their first win against an SEC team since 1968, even holding a lead with under 30 seconds left, but Tankersley’s baseline floater with one second left was a little too strong giving the Rebels the victory 70-69.
This was a winnable game for the Titans, but nevertheless it serves as a baseline for where the team should be if it can be on the same page while trusting its play makers and scheme. They have five players out right now for various reasons with no definitive timeline for when the rotation should look complete, so the Titans that do suit up will have to keep battling every night and buy in if they want to win games. Mike Davis, who Ole Miss coach Chris Beard called “one of the best coaches in the country”, is no stranger to being forced to be creative with lineups and if this team can execute at a high level and shoot well enough, they can compete in the Horizon.