SHERIDAN — Sheridan College men’s basketball head coach Matt Hammer pulled Javary Christmas aside prior to the Generals’ top-20 game against Casper College Wednesday. He told his sophomore guard, who comes off the bench, that he was going to see the floor plenty against the seventh-ranked Thunderbirds with starter Sean Sutherlin nursing a sprained wrist.
And with the Christmas holiday cheer all but gone, Sheridan’s Christmas delivered. And it wasn’t in the form of gifts and joy but rather in energy and points.
Christmas poured in a career-high 25 points as the 16th-ranked Generals pushed past Casper 97-87 inside the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome.
“I always play good in big games,” Christmas said.
Christmas found motivation Wednesday in numerous spots. Not only did he want to step up for his head coach and his ailing teammate, but he also wanted to show out in front of some old rivals.
The Thunderbirds have two players on their roster from Christmas’ hometown of Portland, and Christmas wanted to show his fellow Pacific Northwesterners a thing or two about basketball.
“I just knew it was a big game for Sheridan in general, and it was a big game for me personally,” Christmas said. “… I knew I had to come with my ‘A’ game.”
That ‘A’ game consisted of five 3-pointers and 15 first-half points. The Generals built as large as a 16-point first-half advantage. While much of that credit goes to Christmas and Cam Reece — who finished with a game-high 26 points — a couple unlikely sources chipped in quite a bit, as well.
Sasa Vuksanovic started Wednesday in place of AJ Bramah, who is still working his way back from an illness, and the Serbian native produced. Elijah Blake spelled starting point guard Josh Bagley, who battled leg cramps Wednesday and steadied the ship on more than one occasion.
“Elijah Blake, I’m so proud of him,” Hammer said. “He had a rough first semester. He didn’t play a lot of minutes, and you could tell he wasn’t happy with it. He could have taken the easy road, quit, stayed home or went somewhere else. But he came back, and from the first day he came back, his practices have been great. He’s been playing his butt off.”
The Generals held a 45-30 advantage at halftime and came out of the locker room with the same energy of the first half. SC extended its lead to 60-37 with 16:52 to play in the game on a 9-0 that featured buckets from four different players.
But the Generals next field goal didn’t occur until the 11:15 mark. Within that 5 1/2 minutes stretch, the Thunderbirds went on a 21-0 run.
“Tip of the hat to them,” Hammer said. “They easily could have checked it in. But they kept being aggressive. They attacked the basket, and we didn’t, and we weren’t strong with the ball.”
Casper clawed back to bring the game within a possession but couldn’t overtake the Generals. SC went on a quick 11-2 run — again receiving buckets from numerous hands such as Christmas, Reece, Vuksanovic and Adham Eleeda — to extend its lead to double figures. The Thunderbirds never pulled within eight points from then on.
Eleeda finished with 15, which included four treys, while Vuksanovic chipped in 10 points. The Generals shot 56.7 percent (38 of 67) from the floor where Casper connected on just 41 percent (32 of 78) of its field-goal attempts.
The victory improves Sheridan to 17-1 on the season and 3-0 in Region IX play, while Casper falls to 17-2 and 2-1 in the conference. It’s just one game, but with it’s impact nationally and within the region, Reece knows what it’ll do to his team.
“This puts a bigger ‘X’ on our back,” Reece said. “It lets us know we got to work harder.”
Sheridan College returns to action Saturday on the road at Laramie County Community College. The Golden Eagles are 8-11 overall and 1-2 in Region IX play.
Perhaps the biggest test for the Generals will be trying to avoid the big-game hangover from Wednesday. Christmas is aware of that fact, but not too worried about it.
“That happens to every team, but us being such a veteran-like team, we have all been there before,” Christmas said. “We’ve all had big games, so we as sophomores have to come in and lead the freshman and have our mind right for Saturday.”
Casper College…..30 57 — 87
Sheridan College…45 52 — 97
Casper College — Likayi 22; Adamu 20; Bonton 14; Finstuen 14; Goodwin 6; Harris 5; Pepple Jr. 4; Tordoff 2
Sheridan College — Reece 26; Christmas 25; Eleeda 15; Vuksanovic 10; Bramah 7; Bagley 5; Blake 5; Sutherlin 4
Casper College 41 (Tordoff 13); Sheridan College 47 (Bagley 7; Christmas 7)
Casper College 10 (Bonton 4); Sheridan College 22 (Bagley 4; Christmas 4; Vuksanovic 4)