Over the course of an arduous winter break schedule, the men’s basketball team was shown, time and time again, that this would be as far from a cakewalk to a championship as any Wesleyan winter team will have. The NESCAC men’s basketball ranks are loaded with top DIII talent, and in order to compete, Wesleyan will have to be at its absolute best to contend with rivals Middlebury (ranked fourth in all of DIII), Williams (ninth), and Amherst (14th).
Perhaps the most striking feature of the NESCAC this year is the remarkable parity shown throughout the league. With the exceptions of Conn College and Hamilton, every NESCAC school has won at least two games and is squarely in the playoff picture. The winter break tour proved to be just as tough as anyone could have predicted with the team going 3-4 against ’CAC opponents while dropping two non-conference games for an overall record of 9-10 and a conference record of 3-4 to date.
The first game of the break was played at Cabrini College in Radnor, Penn. where the Cardinals were topped by a strong Cabrini squad just prior to entering a four-game spread against NESCAC competition. Wes went down 40-28 in the first half and unfortunately could not recover, eventually losing 87-69. The Cardinals were led in scoring by senior co-captains Shasha Brown and Mike Callahan, who tucked away 21 and 19 points, respectively. Glen Thomas ’14 grabbed 14 boards to pace the Cardinals.
The first game that Wesleyan played against NESCAC competition was Little Three rival Amherst. The Lord Jeffs emerged victorious in the game, winning by a score of 75-61. The game was closer than it appeared, with bench contributions making the difference. While Wesleyan got 12 points out of its second unit, Amherst’s bench managed 20, including 11 from guard Conner Green. The only three Cardinals to hit double figures were tri-captains Callahan, Brown, and Derick Beresford ’13, who chipped in 19, 15, and 10. No other Cardinal scored more than five.
Next the Redbirds stayed home to host in-state rival Trinity. The fans left happy, as the Cardinals jumped far ahead 34-21 in the first half and held on for a slim 66-58 win. Guard Avery Robinson ’15 started alongside Brown and Beresford and did work, putting in 11 to match Brown’s contribution. Big men Callahan and Thomas threw in 16 and 10 while each snagged a double-double with 11 and 13 boards, respectively.
Their first conference away game came against other Little Three rival Williams, and the Cardinals were prepared for a beast of a match. They played with the Ephs for all 40 minutes but could not record the W, losing a close game 74-65.
It was all about the starters this game, as Wesleyan recorded only one point off the bench, while Williams snagged a similarly paltry two. The Cardinals were led by another double-double attributed to Thomas as he scored 11 points and notched 14 rebs. Brown led by example with a team-high 21 points and four assists while adding five rebounds of his own, while Callahan shot 8-14 from the floor (including two treys) for 18 points.
The Cardinals faced what was perhaps their most important test of the year against highly ranked Middlebury but came up just short after overtime, eventually falling 78-77 on the road. The Cards started with three big men up front, adding Rashid Epps ’16 to the potent tandem of Callahan and Thomas. Thomas did as he seemingly always does and led all players in rebounds by recording 10. The Cardinals got the most out of their captains as Callahan threw down 21 while Brown chipped in 20. Beresford was no slouch either as he was good for 12 points off of an impressive 5-7 shooting performance. Unfortunately, even the extra time did not allow the Cardinals to pull ahead as they lost another game, their third in four, to one of the league’s strongest teams.
The Cardinals had a shot at redemption when they played Amherst again, this time in Amherst, but the result was the same. The Lord Jeffs won again by a score of 68-60 even after the Cardinals led throughout the first half and entered the second up by a score of 32-29. Brown led the team with 22 points and three steals, while Beresford and Callahan rounded out the double-digit scorers with 13 each.
Their next game was against Tufts, and after eating away at a sizable 39-28 halftime lead, the Cardinals lost by a one-shot margin 77-75. This game featured much of the same standards that the Cardinals had displayed up to this point in the season. Beresford scored 26 while Brown scored 21, but unfortunately no one else reached double digits.
The Cardinals finally got back on track after that string of losses against Bates, whom they beat on the road in Lewiston 61-51. The Cardinals led 30-17 at halftime, and it was smooth sailing down the stretch. Thomas had another signature night as leading rebounder as he grabbed 13 boards to accompany the high scoring antics of Brown and Callahan, who scored 24 and 18, respectively.
Most recently, the Cardinals absolutely shellacked Conn College (the only team in the NESCAC without a win) by a score of 71-41. Callahan and Beresford each grabbed three steals as a Cardinals team that had been short on defense against the bigger teams in the NESCAC showed up to shut down the Camels. Beresford also had 19 points while Brown added 18, and Callahan contributed nine; totaling 46 points meaning that the three senior co-captains singlehandedly outscored the Camels by five, a rare feat.
Wesleyan will continue to try to exceed a .500 record over the course of is next two games against Marine Merchant Academy on Monday and Eastern Connecticut State University on Wednesday. These two games should allow the Cardinals to build upon their two-game win streak and give them a renewed sense of purpose heading into the final three NESCAC games, which will go a long way towards determining playoff seeding.