The men’s basketball team began its season on a strong note this past weekend, rolling over Sarah Lawrence College 100-51 on Saturday before defeating Worcester State 61-60 on Sunday to win the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament title at home.
Joseph Kuo ’17 captured the tournament’s MVP award, posting a team-high 17 points to go along with 7 rebounds in the opener and adding another 24 points and 13 rebounds in the championship game. The 6’8” forward was efficient all weekend, shooting a combined 18-29 from the field while committing just two turnovers.
“Everybody on our team saw [Kuo’s performance] coming,” said Head Coach Joe Reilly. “Joseph had a great end-of-the-season last year, and he worked extremely hard in the offseason both on his skill work and in gaining some weight in the weight room. Other guys got a lot better too, but all fall, and certainly in the preseason too, it was clear that [Kuo] was a completely different player.”
Rashid Epps ’16 and Jack Mackey ’16 were also major contributors to the Cardinals’ success this weekend, as Epps garnered all-tournament honors on his way to an impressive 10-point, 17-board double-double in Sunday’s championship game. Mackey helped facilitate Epps’ and Kuo’s success, leading the team in assists with seven on Saturday and another six against Worcester State.
“We have a lot of guys who can fill up the stat sheet in a lot of different ways,” Kuo said. “We have a bunch of really talented guys this year, so our ability to vary it up really helped us in particular on offense.”
While the Cardinals cruised on Saturday, the championship game on Sunday was a close tilt from the start. Both offenses struggled to make anything happen early on, and the game was tied 3-3 until almost the 11-minute mark in the first half. The slow start starkly contrasted with Saturday’s game, where Wesleyan took an early 26-8 lead on its way to a 59-22 halftime advantage.
“I think we were frustrated that we weren’t scoring [in the first game], but we were playing great defense,” Reilly said. “We want to play a faster game so we fast break more, and one thing we did better late in the first half and in the second half was offensive rebounding. I thought that was a huge factor in the game.”
After finishing the first half with a 20-18 lead, the Cards rolled out of halftime with a taller lineup in an effort to produce more success on the boards.
“I think we weren’t working as hard as we could have on the rebounding end [in the first half],” Kuo said. “Once we turned that up, good things started to happen.”
Both offenses picked up the pace in the second half, as the two teams traded buckets for the remainder of the game. A Worcester State three-pointer tied the game at 25 apiece with 17:15 remaining, but BJ Davis ’16 responded with a three of his own for the Cards. Davis finished the game with 12 points and a steal.
“This weekend is a good example of, particularly when you play back-to-back games in the NESCAC, how every game has a different personality,” Reilly said. “I think we’re pretty versatile this year in that we have a strong backcourt and some good players in the paint, so we can play different styles. We knew going into the game that Worcester State wanted to play a slower-paced game and we wanted to play a faster game, and [Worcester] was able to dictate the pace of the game, but I was happy with how we responded.”
The Lancers managed to tie the game again several minutes later, but a three from Harry Rafferty ’17 put the Cards up 33-30. The game stayed close for the remainder, but Wes used a balanced scoring attack and a constant rotation of bench players to close out the win. Eleven different players saw action for Wesleyan, including nine players with at least 10 minutes on the court.
“We’re really excited about the different contributions we had from so many different people,” Reilly said. “Like today, at the end of the game, when we needed a defensive stop, Jordan Sears [’18], who’s been a great defensive presence in practice and he’s only a freshman, was on the floor for us. Also Chris Tugman [’15] had a very good second half, and him being back in our lineup gives us a much better presence down low.”
The Cardinals will face off against Emmanuel College at home on Thursday before taking on Little Three rival Williams at home on Saturday evening. Emmanuel is 1-1 on the year, while nationally ranked Williams dropped its first game this past weekend.
“Obviously Williams is a huge rivalry and it’s going to be a huge game for our team, but my job is to make sure guys don’t forget who we play on Thursday before we play [Williams],” Reilly said. “But this early in the season, it’s really about us, so that’s our focus.”