Injuries for men’s hoops provide opportunity for team’s freshmen

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Without senior guard Daejon Davis and junior guard Bryce Wills, Stanford men’s basketball (6-2, 2-1 Pac-12) head coach Jerod Haase relied on the Cardinal’s bench, full of freshman talent, to pull out the 81-71 win against Oregon State (5-4, 1-2 Pac-12) on Monday. 

Right off the bench, the rookies started making plays, especially guard Michael O’Connell. O’Connell subbed in following Wills’ injury –– about which details have yet to be disclosed –– at the beginning of the first half and ended the game with 12 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. 

Despite playing for 30 minutes, O’Connell did not have a single turnover. The Cardinal have been averaging 15.9 turnovers a game, including 12 turnovers against OSU, yet O’Connell has had only six of the errors all season. 

Fellow freshman guard Noah Taitz and forward Brandon Angel appeared on the score sheet as well, as did freshman forward Ziare Williams. Williams joined the Cardinal program out of Sierra Canyon High School as Stanford’s top recruit in program history and has repeatedly demonstrated his highly-touted skills, opening his collegiate career with a 19-point debut against Alabama in November and averaging 11.1 points per game over the season. Williams finished Monday night’s action with six points, four rebounds and three assists. 

Angel drove to the basket seconds after subbing in, Taitz moved the ball efficiently and calmly up the court and O’Connell continued to make big plays as the game progressed to help guide the Cardinal both offensively and defensively and to complement big offensive performances from upperclassmen forwards Oscar da Silva and Jaiden Delaire.

O’Connell’s efforts could be described as a breakout game, as the freshman appeared at ease surpassing his season high in points and doubling his career high in minutes. A full court fastbreak followed by an assist to senior da Silva garnered momentum to end the first half. And a driving lay-up and successful and-one to start the second half helped propel Stanford to victory. 

“Michael is a born leader and proven competitor — the type of person that will thrive in our culture” said Haase of the freshman’s attention-grabbing performance. “He is invested, tough and selfless.”

O’Connell, along with Angel, Taitz and Williams, has found his footing at Stanford, despite having to navigate unprecedented circumstances during his freshman year as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Stanford to constantly adjust plans and game schedules. The stellar freshman recruiting class stepped up in the loss of Wills and Davis as instrumental pieces men’s hoops’ second conference win. 

Though the freshman squad has yet to compete on its home court in Maples Pavilion due to Santa Clara County restrictions that ban contact sports, the group’s contributions in Corvallis have many fans excited for the day they can finally see them in action on the Farm.

Contact Harper Hummelt at hummelth ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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