The first half of the 2011-12 season was a time of change and transition for the Swarthmore men’s basketball team. Although the team showed fight throughout the first half, concluding with a seven-game stretch over break, it produced a 1-14 record, including an eight-game losing streak. With a new year comes a new beginning, however, and the Garnet was looking to turn the page as the spring semester heats up.
The team, working under the new leadership of interim head coach Joe Culley, kicked off the winter break schedule at the Morris Cregger New Years’ Classic at Roanoke College on January 2-3. The Garnet hung tight in the first game of the tournament against Shenandoah, led by a 27-point showing from star junior Will Gates. Leading by a point at halftime, the team fought to the end but came up just short in an 81-77 loss. In the consolation game, Swarthmore fell to host Roanoke by a 74-48 score.
A subsequent loss to Arcadia preceded a four-game stretch against Conference opponents. Although the Garnet lost all four, the week was highlighted by a tight 70-61 game against Johns Hopkins, currently ranked second in the Centennial Conference. The Garnet trailed by just three points at the half, and Gates again led the team in scoring with 21 points.
Despite the current record, the team believes that success lies ahead. “Although our record may not reflect it, I believe we are improving every day,” Culley said. “It’s been a challenge taking over a college basketball team in the middle of a season, and one week later taking a 23 day break…but we have managed to stay together as a team through the adversity.”
Culley’s optimistic sentiments echo those of Lee Wimberly, the man he replaced as Head Coach. Speaking to the Phoenix earlier this season, Wimberly stressed the need for the team to “get healthy and continue to improve significantly as the season progresses,” while putting earlier losses behind them.
Gates, whose 285 points and 19 per-game average place him as one of the elite scorers in the Centennial Conference, agreed with his coach’s assessment. “I think we’re much more talented of a basketball team than we’re showing,” he said. “We have played very well at times, but we haven’t put a full game together yet.”
The season is set to close with ten straight games against Conference opponents, including two against Tri-Co rival Haverford, a February 4 rematch with Johns Hopkins, and a January 21 home game against Ursinus, whose 69-65 loss to the Garnet on December 3 represents Swarthmore’s lone win this season.
“We have given away a ton of games this year in… the second half,” Gates said. “We’re capable of being a playoff team, but I think we haven’t had a game where everyone is playing well enough to win. We’ll have a game where a few guys play well and then the next game a few other guys will play well. We just haven’t put together a complete game yet.”
“We still have a lot of conference games left to turn this season around,” Culley said. “Our guys continue to come to practice with the goal of improving every day and I fully expect to see us continue to get better each week and pull off a few upsets before our season is over.”
On Wednesday, the Garnet traveled to Haverford to take on another conference rival. The Fords defeated Swarthmore by the score of 65-62 to leave them winless in the new year.
Swarthmore looks to get back on track when Ursinus comes to Tarble Pavillion on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 3:00 pm.