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Will this be another historic season for men’s basketball?

in Men/Sports/Winter by

The Swarthmore men’s basketball team has had a strong and exciting year so far that will hopefully end in yet another Centennial Conference Championship and the chance to compete in the NCAA National Championship Tournament. Their current 18-3 conference record has them in a three-way tie with Johns Hopkins and Franklin and Marshall. With only two games left before Conference play, Swat basketball seems ready to take on the challenges ahead and make sure these last two games of their season gear them up for their playoff run.

Swat’s men’s basketball ended last year’s season on an all-time high. They won the Conference Championship at home versus Dickinson and then hosted the first round of NCAA tournament. Last year’s success was long awaited, as it was the most successful season in Swarthmore basketball history as well as the first Conference Championship win for the Garnet. The previous season was also one for the record books with their first trip to the Conference Finals since 1997 and head coach, Landry Kosmalski, earning Centennial Conference Coach of the Year. The success of the two back-to-back historical seasons will hopefully be continued this year with another Conference Championship. Zac O’Dell ’20 gave his take on the mindset his team has going into each game this year after winning the Championship last year.

I wouldn’t say winning last year changed anything about our gameplay this year, but it definitely gave us confidence going into the season,” said O’Dell.

It is this confidence that will contribute to men’s basketball creating another historic season this year and becoming recognized for their talent not just in the Centennial Conference but throughout the D3 basketball world. According to D3hoops.com, Swarthmore is currently ranked number 12 nationally. They have a 6-1 record in non-conference games this season, only narrowly losing to York College of Pennsylvania, currently ranked number 8. Over winter break Swarthmore easily defeated the 13th seed Middlebury by more than 10 points, demonstrating that they deserve their prestigious ranking among D3 schools and can compete against both schools in the Centennial Conference as well as the NESCAC Conference.

Being ranked number 12 nationally takes a lot of work from each player. In order to maintain this ranking, all 13 players on the team must show up to practice ready to work hard each day. It is this effort shown by the whole team that will not only allow the Garnet to finish in the top four teams of the Centennial Conference but also give them a good shot at once again taking home the Conference Championship. In order to defend their title they must first get through playoffs, which will begin next week with the semifinals. Robbie Walsh ’18 elaborated on the team’s mindset going into playoffs.

“Our team mentality is that we just take it one game at a time and focus on getting better every day. We are going to prepare the way we always do, and everything will fall into place,” said Walsh.

So far this outlook seems to be working and hopefully it will allow for more wins before playoffs. The final game, against Franklin and Marshall, is very important for the end of season standings. The game is a rematch of Swat’s first conference loss of the season. The Garnet have not defeated Franklin and Marshall since 2013, and a regular season conference championship looks to be on the line, so there is plenty motivation to push the team to victory. Luckily for the men’s basketball team, the game is at home. With a current 11 game home winning streak it would seem that the energy from being at Tarble Pavilion could help the Garnet come out with two victories. Walsh gave some insight on the role of Swat fans in the game.

“I think the fans absolutely impact the energy. When the gym is quiet we have to manufacture our own energy a little more, which can be tough. But when the gym is rocking we definitely feed off that,” said Walsh.

The next two home games for men’s basketball will hopefully be full of fans bringing the energy and cheering on this historic and hard working team. So come see for yourself just how good this team can be as they take on Franklin and Marshall on Feb. 17th at 3 p.m.

Men’s Basketball hopes to defend title

in Men/Sports/Winter by

If you take a walk through the lobby of the Fieldhouse these days, you’ll likely hear the sound of a ball repeatedly striking hardwood. That’s right, basketball is back in season, and the Garnet Men’s Basketball team are making a statement to start the season. They’ve so far gone 4-0, averaging almost 95 points a game, the 20th most in the nation, while outscoring their opponents by nearly 15 points a game. Coming into this season, the Garnet were ranked No. 25 in the nation and were the preseason Centennial Conference Champion selections, and now they find themselves at No. 12 in the most recent rankings.

The Garnet reached their first NCAA basketball tournament last season after winning the Centennial Conference for the first time. However, this year’s team only returns six of last year’s players. Key losses include Sam Lebryk ʼ17, career 1000 point scorer Chris Bourne ʼ17, and former starting point guard Matt Brennan ʼ18. However, they retain the services of point guard Cam Wiley ʼ19, who had an absolutely phenomenal breakout sophomore season and was named the first ever Garnet All-American after setting the program single-season record for scoring. He is also joined by Zack Yonda ʼ18, a two-time All-Conference selection. Big man Robbie Walsh ʼ18 also returns for the Garnet as a force in the paint. Last year’s top rebounding team has been well serviced by him so far, along with fellow big men Zac O’Dell ʼ20 and Nate Shafer ʼ20. All three already have at least 20 boards each on the season. Jim Lammers ʼ18, the final returner for the Garnet, has tallied the second most minutes on the team and is perhaps best known for his spectacular defense.

Because of all of those personnel losses from last season, the Garnet brought in a very large first-year class of seven.

The freshman are doing a good job getting acclimated to our system and have continued to improve as they get more reps in practice and more game experience.  Since we only have 6 returners from last year they will have to play a big role since many of them will need to play significant minutes for us,” said Walsh.

Already some of the first-years are having a big impact for the squad. In the first game of the season, when the Garnet blitzed Hood College for 111 points, first-years sharpshooter Conor Harkins ʼ21 had a career performance in his first career game as he scored 27 points, all coming off of three pointers. Abass Sallah ʼ21, another first-year, has already taken on the role of primary ball handler for the Garnet whenever Wiley is off the floor, and he recorded eight assists in the game against Hood. Ryan Ingram ʼ21 has also been playing significant minutes for the squad.

In terms of expectations coming into the season, Yonda’s might have been initially tempered.

“Because we have so many new, young guys, I realized coming into this season that we might have a slower start than past years. It’s a lot easier to start the season strong when we’ve have a team full of seniors and juniors that all have three plus years of experience under their belts. I wasn’t expecting us to struggle at the beginning because we brought back some key guys and brought in a ton of talent, but I was prepared to face some tough ‘learning experiences’ early on,” said Yonda.

However, as the Garnet have opened with a four-game win streak, the team’s performance has surely exceeded his initial expectations.

“The young guys have been doing an incredible job at picking things up quickly and absorbing information and have exceeded my expectations in that regard. Their performance so far is a huge part of why we already have four wins,” Yonda said.

Head coach Landry Kosmalski, in his five years at Tarble Pavilion, has managed to transform the Garnet from the dregs of the Centennial Conference into a regional powerhouse. Last year’s Mid-Atlantic Region Coach of the Year and two-time Centennial Conference Coach of the Year took over a team that had only won three games the previous year and by last year had brought them to NCAA tournament and their most successful season in program history.

The Garnet already have a game under their belt in conference play as they travelled down to Maryland to face the Shoremen of Washington College. Wiley scored a game-high 18 on an efficient 7-of-13 shooting as the Garnet pulled out a 79-70 victory in their lowest-scoring game of the year. Yonda added 17 points, including seven from the charity stripe. Shafer and O’Dell both had near double-doubles as Shafer went for 11 points and nine rebounds while O’Dell scored 10 and grabbed eight boards, in addition to adding four blocks.

If there is anything to complain about in the Garnet’s performance so far, it might be their slow starts. In their game against Albertus Magnus, they trailed at the half before going on to win by a comfortable 10-point margin. In their game against Misericordia, they only scored 33 in the first half to find themselves tied, before going on to score an astounding 60 points in the final twenty minutes. The Garnet have consistently made up for any slow starts with rousing second-half performances and have managed to win all their games by fairly comfortable margins.

“We’re winning games because we are talented and can really turn it on for short periods in games which not many teams can handle. You saw that in the Misericordia game with the second-half run that blew the game open. I think we’re doing a good job right now sharing the ball and getting good shots on offense, and also our bigs are doing a tremendous job defensively protecting the rim,” said Yonda.

The Garnet open home conference play tonight against Muhlenberg at 8:00 p.m. as they hope to keep their hot start going. Perhaps another NCAA tournament appearance awaits later this season. In any case, they’ll surely be an exciting team to watch.  

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