The crowd was reminiscent of the old days, but this was the beginning of a new era for Flagler College men’s basketball.
With 741 spectators rockin’ Flagler Gymnasium, the Saints defeated Shorter University 87-74 in their season opener Tuesday and gave new coach Chad Warner his first victory with the school.
“The energy was unbelievable,” said center Chris Williams who scored 22 points and ripped down 17 rebounds for the Saints. “We try to feed off the fans’ energy. Tonight they gave us a huge boost.”
The last time a larger crowd attended a men's basketball game at the gym was Feb. 24, 2010 when 1,137 fans watched Flagler beat Francis Marion 72-63. On Feb. 18 of last season against UNC Pembroke, 713 fans turned out to celebrate Bo Clark Day.
“It was a great turnout, and I’m happy for our guys,” said Warner, who now only has to win 490 more games to catch up with his predecessor Clark, who retired after 31 years with the school.
The Saints (1-0) tied the score midway through the first half after Shorter had led by as many as five points and never trailed again.
Damerit Brown, who transferred from Shorter after last season, also scored 22 points, while Vaughn McCall (13 points), Cortlin Davis (12) and Jerffercy Jean (10) also scored in double figures.
“I was kind of anxious at first,” said Brown, who led Flagler with three 3-pointers. “After the first two or three minutes I felt better and that’s when I started making shots.”
The Saints hit 19 of 20 free throws, with Brown going 9 for 9 from the line, and they out-rebounded the Hawks (0-3) 48-21. Flagler grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, with Williams corralling seven of them, and scored 17 second-chance points.
Flagler went on a 14-0 first-half run to go up 27-18, and took a 41-29 lead into halftime. Shorter got no closer than six points in the second half.
“It felt good to start off with on a winning note,” Davis said. “Everybody’s excited about our new coach.”
About the only negative for the Saints was their 29 turnovers that led to 31 points for the visitors.
“The bottom line is if we turn the ball over like that, we can’t beat many people,” Warner said. “They called a bunch of travels and we were sloppy with the ball. We’re happy, but we’ve got a lot of learning to do. We’ve got to get a lot better.”
McCall, the Saints’ leading scorer last year with 17.2 points per game, played just seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, but scored 11 second-half points, including an emphatic dunk as he was fouled with 2:24 left. His free throw to complete the three-point play put the Saints up 81-68.
Brown, McCall’s high school teammate at Ocoee, played most of the game at point guard, reversing roles with McCall from their high school days.
“Vaughn was our point guard in high school,” Brown said. “He’s very unselfish, but he can score the ball pretty easily, so we like him on the wing.”
Williams had a double-double by halftime with 10 points and 10 rebounds and then continued his high-energy performance in the second half.
“He’s a really talented player and he made some big plays when we needed him,” Warner said.
Amonte Potter, Shorter’s only returning player from last season, led the Hawks with 21 points.
The Saints will now travel to Atlanta to take on Clark Atlanta on Friday night and Paine on Saturday.