Coming off a one-point loss against Dominican on November 15, the men’s basketball team split a pair of non-conference games at home over the weekend against Hanover on Friday and Denison on Sunday. The 84–66 victory Friday was a credit to the team’s balance. Third-year guard Tommy Sotos led the team with 20 points, while every other player scored at least two. The team lost 66–65 to Denison in an incredibly close showing.
“[The game] showed that we focused on mistakes and fixed them,” third-year forward Steve Stefanou said. “Top to bottom everyone contributed, which is something we will need down the road. It will be important to get contributions from everybody.”
On Sunday, the unrestrained dancing from the Chicago phoenix mascot did not rally the modest crowd enough to root the team to victory. A down-to-the-wire finish saw Denison make six late free-throws and pull out the win by one point. Third-year Matt Johnson led the team with 14 points, and every player scored for the second straight game.
“We played really hard, and guys have been shooting it really well,” said Sotos. “In the long run, it could be good for us. Some guys may have thought we were better than we were. We have to treat it as a building block.”
In spite of the rather lackluster start to the season, the team is still optimistic.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, but every guy that we have can play,” said coach Mike McGrath. “They’re playing hard, and as a team I feel very good about the season.”
“Despite a 1–2 record, our first three games have reflected that we have the potential to be a great team,” said Johnson. “Right now, our effort in practice and for parts of games is outstanding, but in our two losses we have had lapses in our focus and intensity. We realize we are just two points away from being 3–0, and understand that we still have a lot of games left to play.”
The team’s sole fourth-year, Paul Riskus, has been unable to play this year. His absence has forced the team to develop leadership in younger players.
“We have a lot of experience. A lot of our juniors have played a lot, so some of those guys have stepped up and filled a leadership role,” continued McGrath. “We’d like to have a lot of presence from seniors, but we just have to find leaders in the group no matter if they are seniors, juniors, sophomores, or freshmen.”
“It changes the mentality behind the leadership. He was our senior captain, and we turned to him for energy. With him gone, it’s much more leadership by committee,” Sotos added. “We have different guys stepping up during practice and on the floor. There’s no go-to guy.”
Despite the dearth of fourth-years, the team is still looking for a successful season.
“Our team expects nothing less than a very successful season, and our main goal is winning a UAA championship,” said Johnson. “I think the easy thing to do is to say that without any seniors on our team, this season is a step towards a championship campaign next year. But we are determined to make it happen now and, as long as we can continue to work hard and improve, anticipate a great year.”
“[Our] expectations are to work hard every day and get better,” McGrath reiterated. “Our goal in the end is to win the UAA championship. We have a group that is capable of that.”
The balance and work ethic that the team has displayed so far bodes well for a strong finish in what looks to be an even league.
“It seems up in the air. There are a lot of teams that lost a lot from last year, and I think it is going to be interesting to see how teams do early,” said McGrath. “It’s one of those years where you have no idea how it is going to play out. The teams that were picked to do well have a lot of holes and the teams that weren’t picked have a chance to do really well. Anybody can beat anybody. It’s going to be very competitive.”