In the first few minutes of the game against North Carolina Central, it was apparent things are getting a lot easier for the men’s basketball team.
Utah Valley coasted to a 68-52 win over the first-year Division I school last week in the second game of its Independent schedule. After 10 minutes, the Wolverines, 8-13 with the win, lead 23-2 and the game was never in question from there.
"We really got it off to a great start," coach Dick Hunsaker said. "We’re a team that’s been away from home all season. We really haven’t developed a home identity with this basketball team yet this season."
The win over North Carolina Central, 1-23 after the loss, was Utah Valley’s first home game in almost a month, after a season-long, five-game road trip where it went 1-4, the only win against Cal State Bakersfield, another Independent.
"It feels good to be at home," said guard Ryan Toolson, who scored 24 points against North Carolina Central. "It feels good to have fans again and have the rims you’re used to on the floor you are used to."
After playing 14 of their first 20 games on road and a tough mid-major slate it hasn’t been easy for the team to develop much of anything. But that will all change with a heavy dose of Independent opponents the rest of the way.
The Wolverines’ chance to get on a winning streak is now.
"We need these wins for ourselves," guard Ryan Toolson said. "We know that if we come together as a team and do our plays we can beat a lot of the teams we lost to this season. We want to go undefeated the last few games."
After a game at home against Arkansas State, a team which Utah Valley beat on the road in the third game of the season, Wednesday, the remainder of the schedule for the Wolverines will consist of Independent teams. And none of those teams have a winning record. Another game against North Carolina Central and two games against winless New Jersey Institute of Technology will likely help the final record, but Hunsaker wants more than just wins in these remaining games.
"It’s about us trying to develop an identity," Hunsaker said. "We’re a team that’s been a work in progress throughout the season."
Part of the identity Hunsaker wants for his Wolverines is better play from his bench players. If Utah Valley continues with big wins it may give the bench players more minutes to show what they can do.
"We still need to develop some level of consistency from our bench play where you know what you’re going to get when you come in the game and there’s a substitution."
Utah Valley knows it will get four of seven games at home to round out the season against teams which know the pain the Wolverines have felt this season.
Utah Valley, though empathetic of the struggles of other teams like North Carolina Central, hopes to be dishing out the pain from here on out.