The BJU Bruins battled against the Bruins of Piedmont International University on Friday, Feb. 7. Last year, during BJU’s inaugural season, the new team edged ahead of Piedmont at home, 86-84, in a thrilling overtime win. But this year the game was not as close. BJU handily defeated Piedmont 81-61, putting a reassuring stamp on a season of improvement. BJU has taken dramatic steps forward this season, and the 12 wins are already twice as many as last season.

BJU hit Piedmont with an 11-0 run to start the game. They were there to make a statement, and it was the Bruins’ opportunity to show what a year can do. “Players like Larry Taylor and Darnel Antoine are able to get to the rim pretty easily, and they draw a lot of attention because they are good around the rim. But they both drive with their eyes up looking for players to pass to,” Zach Mercado said after the win Friday night. This has certainly been a key to the Bruins’ success this season.

Also important is the ability to complement aggressive drives with shots from outside. Much of the rhythm of the games this season has been set by the Bruins being able to hit outside shots to gain or maintain momentum. Having another year to practice has, as expected, allowed the players to get used to one another’s playing styles. “A lot of times it is almost as if [Taylor and Antoine] don’t even have to look up and try to spot us. They just know where we are,” Mercado said.

This was obvious in the game Friday night as it wasn’t rare to see BJU drive to the basket, the defense collapse, and the ball jump back outside to an open perimeter shooter. In this game, the Bruins were much more effective in striking a balance between suffocating defense and a potent offense, and the scoreboard reflected that. Going into halftime, the Bruins led 39-25.

As the second half began, Piedmont came out with a vengeance. They scored quickly and effectively shut down BJU’s offense, which had earlier been unchallenged. Although there was never a definitive turning point, midway through the second half, BJU’s offense clicked back on and extended out of the reach of Piedmont.

The Bruins have appeared quicker, stronger and more aggressive throughout the entire game than they did last year. Sophomore Kyle Turner attributes that to tough practices. “If I’m going full speed in practice, I will be able to do that in games,” he said.

Turner called himself “assist-dependent” and credited senior Jason McVey, Taylor and Antoine with the ability to find him when he is clearing out the lane. The Bruins improved to a 12-13 record and look to gain .500 on Feb. 14 against Warren Wilson College at the Davis Field House.