After a rough patch during winter break, men’s basketball righted the ship by beating Amherst, Tufts, and Bates consecutively to make a huge jump in the NESCAC standings. In the Bates matchup, BJ Davis ’16 went off, hitting seven three pointers on 10 attempts from beyond the arc. He credited his teammates for this success.
“I think I just got in a zone early and my teammates were doing a great job finding me for open shots,” Davis said. “I was really just thinking about making the next play to help us get the win.”
The team then took on Conn College at home, hoping to end its January schedule on a strong note.
The start of the matchup was not promising, as the Camels commenced the game with hot shooting, especially from distance. On offense, Wesleyan looked sloppy, turning the ball over on four of its first six possessions. The Camels capitalized on a mistake by Joe Edmonds ’16 seven minutes into the game, quickly moving the ball down the court and launching a three that pushed their lead to 15-9.
The Cardinals’ offensive game plan seemed to be focused around getting open looks from three, but they were unable to convert at an effective clip. Improved defense, however, kept them in the game. They had much more success closing out on Conn’s shooters.
Head Coach Joe Reilly took a timeout with the home team still trailing 25-19. Coming out of the break, the team seemed to have a new commitment to getting the ball in the hands of star guard Davis. He piled on nine points to bring the score to 35-32, but a run by Conn gave the Camels a halftime lead of 42-34.
The Redbirds came out of the locker room with a renewed defensive intensity. With tough-nosed defense and help from poor free throw shooting by the opposition, Wesleyan tied the game up at 48 on a three by Harry Rafferty ’17. The Red and Black stayed hot, and their lead hit a high of 11 when Nathan Krill ’18 converted a layup with under six minutes remaining.
However, Conn refused to go down easily. First-year guard Tyler Rowe connected from deep to cut the lead to four with two minutes to play. In response, Jack Mackey ’16 converted twice from the free throw stripe and then on a layup to essentially ice the game. Rashid Epps ’16 scored the game’s final two points as Wesleyan rolled to an 87-79 win.
Not lost in the clutter of the win was a major individual accomplishment by Davis. He entered the game needing 14 points to reach the 1,000 point milestone for his collegiate career, and he finished with exactly 14 after sinking a free throw in the game’s final minute. Davis says he was not focused on the achievement but rather kept his attention on the contest’s scoreboard.
“Coach Reilly let me know the day before that I was only 14 points away, but not to let it be a distraction and stay focused on beating Conn, which is what we did,” Davis said.
With some prodding, Davis set the win aside and revealed how it felt to reach such an illustrious benchmark.
“It feels great to reach this milestone in my basketball career here at Wesleyan,” he said. “I had the privilege of scoring 1,000 points in high school as well, so it’s really special that I was able to do the same at the collegiate level. It was great to see all of my teammates, family, friends, and coaches so happy for me because it would not have been possible without all of their love and support.”
The next game, against Emmanuel College, was substantially less dramatic. Mackey went off in the first half, draining five of his nine attempts from deep. Emmanuel showed resilience, keeping the margin at a five point Wesleyan advantage heading into the half.
As the second half got underway, the margin stayed largely constant. After ten minutes, Wesleyan still led by just five and seemed to be struggling on offense. However, this was soon to change, as the Cards stretched their lead to 65-47 on the strength of four free throws from Joseph Kuo ’17 and a pair of treys by Mackey to put his total at seven. The Red and Black rode this lead out to a 78-60 victory to put their season record at 17-4.
Mackey’s 25 points in the contest marked a game high, as well as his personal season high. Rolling again after a brief rough patch, the captain commented on how his team has regained its momentum.
“We just stuck to our plan and trusted the process,” Mackey said. “We had several key guys still working their way back from injury. We finally feel like we are close to full strength and as a result of that we are starting to click.”
The Cardinals play Williams, Bowdoin, and Colby to conclude their regular season schedule before heading into the NESCAC tournament, where they hope to repeat as champions. Mackey spoke to what Wesleyan needs to focus on if it wishes to see as much hardware as last season.
“Limiting turnovers and locking up defensively,” Mackey said. “We are currently second in the country in defensive field goal percentage. When we get shots to the rim and stay tough on defense, no one can beat us.”