After winning their last four games to climb back to the .500 mark for the season, the men’s basketball team dropped two NESCAC matchups this past weekend to Trinity and Amherst. Harry Rafferty ’17 and Joe Edmonds ’16 led the Cardinals in scoring with 27 and 26 points over both games, respectively.
Wesleyan entered the weekend in a tie for fourth place in the NESCAC with Route 9 rival Trinity, as the Cardinals were looking to solidify a playoff spot for the upcoming conference tournament. The game looked to be a face-off between two evenly matched squads as both came into Friday’s game at 3-3, separated by fewer than two points in points per game on the season.
The Cards came out of the gate strong on Friday, holding the Bantams to just 25 percent shooting from the field in the first half. After breaking a 13-13 tie with less than six minutes remaining in the half, Wesleyan went on a 13-6 run to open up a seven-point lead at halftime. Threes from Edmonds and Jack Mackey ’16 highlighted the run, while Rafferty and Joseph Kuo ’17 also added key buckets.
However, Trinity came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, going on a 12-0 run in the first five minutes. The Cardinals kept the game close, cutting the lead to as little as two on a Rafferty trey with just under 11 minutes to go. After defensive stops on the Bantams’ next two possessions, Wesleyan had a couple of chances to take the lead. Unfortunately, the Cardinals could not convert either opportunity, as Trinity never trailed after their second half run, defeating Wesleyan 70-65.
The Cardinals were plagued by foul trouble and a subpar shooting performance all game, finishing with 35.1 percent shooting from the field. With forwards Glen Thomas ’14, Chris Tugman ’15, and PJ Reed ’17 all unavailable due to injuries, the Wesleyan frontcourt was already depleted going into the game. Rashid Epps ’16, the Cardinals’ strongest big man this season, and the 6’8” Kuo were both in danger of fouling out, as both players finished with four fouls. Wesleyan conceded 33 free throws to Trinity on the night, as all starters finished the game with multiple fouls.
“I think we didn’t hit our shots, which definitely hurt the situation,” Rafferty said. “We were playing two very good teams…. Trinity is a team on the rise, and being up at halftime, we just didn’t make plays when we needed to. That shouldn’t take anything away from that game, though; they’re very good, and could definitely compete for the championship this year.”
“That was a disappointing game because we were right there,” said Head Coach Joe Reilly. “I felt like we had a great first half, but our big guys got into a little foul trouble, and [Trinity] really exploited that in the second half. You have to play great to win on the road; I thought we were good, but not great.”
On Saturday, the Cardinals traveled to Amherst to take on the defending Division III National Champions, who are currently ranked ninth in the country. The Jeffs got out to a 12-point lead at halftime, and although Wesleyan was able to cut the lead to 10 with just under nine minutes left in the game, Amherst forced 17 turnovers on their way to an 81-56 victory.
“Early in that game, [Amherst] missed some shots, but we let them get some offensive rebounds, which is just a killer,” Reilly said. “I’d say we have to eliminate some turnovers as well, because if you’re throwing the ball around and [the opposing team] is getting out on three-on-two breaks, it’s really hard to win.”
Edmonds and Rafferty collected 14 and 12 points in the loss, respectively, while Epps also turned in a solid 13 points and 9 rebounds.
“I think the most important thing is that we continue to stay positive,” Rafferty said. “Even with a couple of tough losses, there were positives to the weekend for sure. I can’t say it enough; I think Joe Edmonds continues to be a leader on the team as a player and person who stands out.”
This next weekend will be a make-or-break spot for the Cardinals, as they are slated to match up against Hamilton on Friday, Feb. 14 at 8:00 p.m. in the Silloway Gymnasium. The following day at 4:00 p.m., Wesleyan will wrap up its regular season against Little Three rival Williams. ThoughWes has not faced Hamilton this year, the Cardinals will be looking for revenge against the Ephs on Saturday after their 91-74 defeat in November.
With a win on Friday, Wesleyan can lock up a playoff spot as one of the top eight teams in the conference. Hamilton is currently sixth in the NESCAC standings right now; the team brings to the table the league’s top scorer in Matt Hart (20.8 points per game).
Rafferty said that he hopes to see a large crowd at Friday’s game, as both he and Reilly identified playing at home as a significant boost this weekend.
“The win streak that we had; those were home games and we beat some good teams,” Reilly said. “I think we’ve had a good crowd for some games, and I think that gives our guys a big lift.”
“At this time of the season, it’s very tough to win road games in the NESCAC,” Rafferty said. “This season, I think our fans have shown a lot of support, and we’re going to need it Friday night to create the best atmosphere possible. Hopefully we can get a lot of fans to come to the game and create a rowdy environment for Hamilton to come play in.”