Men’s basketball drove its way through its first five opponents to open this season. The team’s undefeated run has been highlighted by close wins over Bard College and Western New England University (WNE). Wes seeks to continue its perfect record as it prepares to play away at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Thursday, and then at home against Williams on Saturday.
The season began against University of Southern Maine (USM) in the Herb Kenny Tournament. At first, the teams stayed close, with USM trailing Wesleyan by a slim margin. With 12:33 left in the second half, the teams were tied at 53-53. From there, Wes managed to break away with strong play on both ends, only allowing USM to score 10 more points before the game finished at 84-63.
Wesleyan met WNE in the tournament’s championship the next day. The game began with a dominating offensive performance by WNE. The Cards could do little to stop WNE’s consistent three-point shooting. Fortunately for Wes, WNE’s hot hands began to cool off in the second half. With 9:01 remaining in the game, Salim Green ’19 drained a jump shot to give Wes the lead at 62-60. A three-point play by Mikey Pettway for WNE evened the score at 69-69 with 5:23 left on the clock. The Cards remained unfazed, however, sinking several high-pressure free-throws at the end of the game to win 88-80, clinching the tournament.
Starting center Joseph Kuo ’17 was encouraged by the team’s quick start.
“Last year, we lost our first game and it felt awful, so to win the tournament was refreshing,” Kuo said. “We still have a long way to go though.”
Team captain and starting guard Harry Rafferty ’17 echoed the same feeling of excitement and need to stay prepared.
“Glad we were able to get two very good wins, but we have a ton of work to do,” he said. “We have got to stay focused and keep getting better.”
Against Bard, Wesleyan found itself down early once again, but the Cards fought back in the second half to close the gap. With 7:45 left in the second half, Rafferty posted a three to tie the score at 51 apiece. Kuo followed with a layup for Wes to take its first lead of the game. Wesleyan held onto its lead throughout the remainder of the game to win 66-58.
Wes entered the Harold Brodie Tournament in Rochester, N.Y. loaded with momentum. In the team’s first match against Hartwick College, Wes once again trailed early but strong offense enabled the team to catch up and eventually win 91-79. The Cards charged into the championship game against Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and in the first half throttled their opponent, 41-24. RIT fought back meekly in the second half, but Wes cruised to a 83-65 finish to win its second tournament of the year.
Head Coach Joseph Reilly credited the season’s wins to the team’s great depth, which has helped replace the void left by four top senior players who left last year.
“It was a great start for the team,” Reilly said. “The guys have been working very hard. It all starts with the seniors PJ [Reed], Raff, and Joseph who are all doing a wonderful job mentoring the younger players. We have a lot of depth and talent. We need to stick together and trust each other throughout the year.”
Reilly pointed to the team’s emerging underclassmen as strong components of the team’s depth.
“Sophomores Jordan Bonner and Salim Green really stepped up after playing behind BJ Davis [’16] and Jack Mackey [’16] last year,” Reilly said.
The coach also elaborated on the key performance of star seniors Rafferty and Kuo.
“Great to have Joseph back to 100 percent after he played an entire season last year with a knee injury,” Reilly said. “In the championship game [of the Herb Kenny Tournament] we responded well to being down at halftime. Rafferty made some key three-pointers to ignite our run. We would like to shoot the ball at a higher percentage but if we continue to rebound the ball like that it might not matter. I am enjoying working with this team. There is a lot of talent; it will be fun to see how good we become this season.”
The Cards will kick of their NESCAC and Little Three schedule come this weekend, as they prepare to play Williams, who has also gone undefeated so far. The game begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday in the Silloway Gymnasium.