For the season Riley is averaging 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.
For the season Riley is averaging 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game.

There may be nothing more important to the Independence Pirates’ basketball game than setting the tone.

Considering the fact they are not a team with a ton of size, a lot of teams will try to come out and push them around early and try to get them to cower back. It’s an easy thing to do to teams that many perceive as soft, and there are times this year the Pirates have been on the soft side.

But one young man that could never be confused for being soft is sophomore forward Tyrone Riley. While Riley is not the biggest man on the court, he is listed as 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, he is certainly the one that carries the most clout on the Pirate roster.

No one pushes Riley around inside and he has flat out been mauling people inside over his last two games.

In a loss versus Cowley Saturday Riley had 22 points and 12 rebounds. And in a win over Allen County Wednesday night the sophomore had his second double-double in a row with 18 points and 11 rebounds.

Riley has tallied three double doubles this season, but has really started to come on as of late even if he hasn’t been racking up 20 and 20 games.

“He’s starting to kind of play and starting to be a sophomore leader and I’ve challenged him in practices and our individual meetings of stepping up and being a sophomore guy and you can’t be inconsistent with it,” head coach Tony Turner said. “If you’re going to be a leader you have to be a leader all the time and that’s on the court, off the court, in practice, all those things there we’ve been talking about with him and it’s showing in the game.”

Riley has never been a guy that is going to put up 20 points every single night. Or maybe a better way to phrase it is Indy’s offense isn’t the type of offense that is built to get a big man 20 points every single night.

But every night Riley has an impact in one way or another, and when he is playing like he is playing right now that carries over to his teammates.

Especially Wednesday night when Riley came out and scored eight of the Pirates’ first 14 points and muscled up an Allen County team that loves to get into other team’s heads with physicality, the Pirates fed off of that.

He set a tone for the rest of the game that saw the Pirates get up by as much as 26 points in the second half.

And even in a loss to Cowley Saturday he set a tone inside that the Pirates were not going to be pushed around. Cowley won that game because they had a player go 8-11 from the three-point line, the loss had nothing to do with ICC’s, or Riley’s, efforts inside.

In the last two years Riley really has taken on the role of ICC’s physical presence and he prides himself on matching up with bigger posts despite what some might perceive as a lack of size.

“If I come out sluggish then my other bigs are going to come out sluggish,” he said. “So I’m the sophomore forward and I set the tone on everything, so I’ve got to make sure I’m playing hard and then Jalen (Pedscleax) and everybody else is going to play hard, you feel me?”

Riley may have a lack of true big man size but what he doesn’t have is a lack of effort. He’s always fighting for rebounds inside, and many times when teams have what looks to be more size than the sophomore he winds up winning the rebounding battle.

Pratt has two posts inside that stand 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9, and in that game Riley finished with nine rebounds and ICC came away with a win.

When Riley comes out and plays his best on the inside teams are going to have trouble messing with the Pirates and it can signal a long day for opponents.

“He’s a physical force down there and the Cowley game I took him out kind of early and he’s like ‘Coach, get me back in,’ and I’m like ‘I got you, I just want to keep you fresh,’ and I put him back in and he showed me that he’s in pretty good shape and he’s going to work hard and he’s going to play hard,” Turner said. “And that’s what leaders are supposed to do.”

Turner is going to do his best to keep his entire team fresh as the season goes along because the grueling nature of this Jayhawk schedule.

At 26 games long it is longer than just about any conference schedule in the entire nation at any level. Only one conference at the NCAA level plays a 20-game conference schedule and that’s the MAAC. And arguably the level of opponents in comparative skill level is much higher amongst Jayhawk teams than it is in the MAAC.

Simply put, there are very few conferences that put their teams through the torture of a conference schedule like the Jayhawk does.

And to ask a big man to be physical every single night when he is already giving up 30 or 40 pounds to many of his opponents already is a very tough ask.

But Riley has gotten stronger as the year has gone on and the grueling nature of the schedule doesn’t faze him in the least.

“It’s been hard because we’ve been so up and down like we’re having trouble finishing games and so it’s really hard on some of us at the same time because a lot of our players are getting tired and it’s hard to deal with,” he said. “But I’m ready to play every game so I mean, it’s alright, I don’t think it’s that bad.”

What’s that bad is teams that are going to have to deal with Riley inside the rest of the season. He has imposed his will on bigger players for a good portion of the season and there is no sign of it stopping any time soon.

He’ll try to do it once again at Seward County at 8 p.m. Saturday night. And odds are he’s going to look to set the tone once again.