As the winter season picks up steam, so does the men’s basketball team. After dropping its first three games of the season, the team won both of its games over the week of Thanksgiving and beat Muhlenberg Tuesday to push the winning streak to three games and move to 3-3, CC 2-1.
Since its early stumbles, the team seems to have settled into the system and is looking forward to the upcoming season.
Sam Lebryk ’17 described the progress, saying, “Our team is very young, with six freshmen and five sophomores. The lack of experience bit us early, but we’ve settled in and started closing games out. We’ve also started to build better chemistry as a team because we know what Coach [Landry] Kosmalski wants from us and what to expect from one another.”
While on paper the season kicked off November 15, the men’s basketball team has been hard at work for much longer. During its offseason, the team focused on strength and conditioning. More so than in years past, the team hit the gym hard, emphasizing the need to get stronger as a collective unit. Aside from strength and conditioning, the team was practicing in the gym three times a week, and taking part in early morning workouts.
Once the season started Kosmalski pushed the players hard and set the bar high from the beginning. In order for his team to be successful in the Centennial Conference this year, Kosmalski believes the team will need to improve every day.
“We need to try to make every single practice our best practice of the year. If we can maintain consistent effort and focus, and if our guys can continue to hold each other accountable and support each other every day, we can be successful,” Kosmalski said when asked about the keys to this season.
And the Garnet have seemed to buy into the system, slowly getting better with each game played.
The men tipped off their season in the annual Equinox Classic held on Swarthmore and Haverford’s campuses. The team quickly dropped to 0-2 on the season after losing to Rochester Institute of Technology 75-65 and Bard College 71-62.
A week later they travelled to Gettysburg to begin their first stretch of conference play. The team would go on to lose a close one, but played well nonetheless, losing by just five points. Garnet had the lead in the game until there were less than five minutes remaining in the second half. It was the third time in a row that the team led at the half and ended up dropping the game.
Since this time, the team has found a way to play well throughout the entirety of its games and has been able to close out its opponents.
“I think we really made a huge step in the Gettysburg game even though we didn’t get the result we wanted. The past two games we’ve played as a team for 40 minutes. The guys really had each other’s backs, especially against Ursinus,” says Karl Barkley ’15.
It was in the Ursinus game that the team picked up its first victory. In a hard-fought game with several lead changes throughout, the Garnet were able to fend off a second half rally to walk away with the victory. The underclassmen for the Garnet stepped up big time, scoring 36 of the last 37 points. Chris Bourne ’17 highlighted the Garnet win with a career high of 24 points and a team-leading 7 rebounds.
Carrying the momentum, Swarthmore handled Cairn with ease, winning 73-60 to pick up their second win of the season. Cairn played a tough first half and kept the game close, but the Garnet showed resiliency and slowly pulled away in the second half. Bourne set another career high, scoring 25 points and Barkley contributed another 18. With his strong performances in both games, Bourne would be named the Centennial Conference Player of the Week, announced on December 1.
Yet it was Tuesday the Garnet got their most impressive win yet. Playing against Muhelnberg, the team found itself down late after leading for most of the game. Luckily for the Garnet, Zack Yonda ’18 stepped up. With a career-high 17 points on the night, Yonda’s most important basket of the night came with 47 seconds left to put Swarthmore up one. From there, rebounding and free throws put the game on ice.
Bourne has noticed a difference in the way his team has been playing on their three-game winning streak. He says, “The difference has been that we have been sticking together through adversity during the games. In the first three, at times when we met adversity, we would not come together as a team and support each other. This year we have been putting an emphasis on supporting each other at all times and we believe that emphasis lead to our last three victories.”
Coach Kosmalski is happy with his team’s improvement in the short span thus far this season. When asked about what he thought the difference was he replied, “The difference has been that our players have done a great job learning from our early losses and have focused on getting a little bit better each game. Step by step we are getting to where we want to be. We have not made many adjustments thus far; rather, we are sticking with our system. We have been saying, ‘Do what we do, but do it better.’”
If the Garnet can keep up their recent performances, they have a great chance for a successful season. The team is young, but the underclassmen have shown they can contribute.
The Garnet will play a very tough Dickinson team on Saturday and then will not resume conference play until after the new year.