The Cards blew past Bowdoin and Colby in Silloway Gymnasium this past weekend to win their final two games of the regular season and lock up the fourth seed for the NESCAC Championship. Against Bowdoin, seniors Joseph Kuo and Harry Rafferty led an explosive offense that scored 93 points over their opponent’s 73. The Red and Black had a slower start against Colby the next day, but rallied in the second half to send the Mules packing, 82-67. Wes will face its rival Trinity at home this Saturday at 3 p.m. in its first postseason game.
From the start of the game on Friday, Bowdoin could only watch as the Cards sank shot after shot. Just minutes into the first half, Wes took off on a 10-2 run, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Around 10 minutes in, Wesleyan’s offensive pressure let off briefly as Colby managed to cut the Cardinal edge to only seven points up. But the Cards whipped back around with unfaltering hands to glide into the second half, 41-22.
The second half began with a quick Polar Bear offensive effort which shortened Wesleyan’s lead to 10. But this was as close as the contest would come. The Cards went on a seven-point run regaining their 17 point advantage, after which Bowdoin never came close.
Against Colby on Saturday, Wes was surprised to find the lowest ranked team in NESCAC shooting so well. The game remained close throughout the first half, with the lead jumping between teams. The beginning of the second half looked bleak with Colby jumping out to a 36-33 lead, but a three-pointer from Kevin O’Brien ’19 one minute later put the Cards up, 37-36. With strong play down the bench, the Cards expanded this lead throughout the rest of the game to win by 15.
Head coach Joe Reilly commented on this clean finish to the season.
“Very proud of the Cardinals for a great regular season,” said Reilly. “The 19 wins total matches the best ever regular season finish in our program’s history.”
Reilly attributes this great season to the senior leaders who have been the team’s pillars throughout the season. These seniors were celebrated this past weekend.
“Senior weekend was an outstanding response by our team,” he said. “Harry and Joseph have done an outstanding job as senior leaders – it was fun to have so many friends and family in attendance as well.”
Kevin McDonald ’20 sees these recent wins as key in preparing the team for its first playoff game against Trinity on Saturday.
“Our two wins this weekend were huge for our momentum heading into playoffs,” said McDonald. “I think we’re going to take it one game at a time, and already having played Trinity once, we’re ready for another win. They’re one of the toughest teams in the league so we need to beat them at their own game and be the tougher team again.”
Wes played the Bantams back on Jan. 14, and managed to edge out a 65-61 victory with Salim Green ’19 hitting the winning shots. Green has been out all of February and it looks like the decision of the guard will have to wait for the Route Nine showdown. Regardless of Green’s status, Rafferty seeks to repeat the win.
“I’m just very excited,” said Rafferty. “A home playoff game was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, and to have it versus a rival like Trinity is awesome. I hope we can get a crowd out to support us, and hopefully we can get the win.”
While there is hopefully a long post-season ahead, much of the team is just focusing on getting through Saturday.
“I think it’s important to take everything one game at a time,” said Kuo. “This week we aren’t thinking about the ‘playoffs.’ We are focusing on beating Trinity and we know they’re focusing on beating us, so we are all excited for this opportunity to compete.”
While this past weekend was a strong showing for Wesleyan’s offense, the team will have to up its defenses against Trinity and not allow them to score 73 points, like it did against Bowdoin.
Reilly is looking forward to the post-season atmosphere this weekend, seeing it as the first stop on a sudden-death, post-season ride.
“It will be another big test for the Cardinals this weekend,” Reilly said. “We anticipate a big crowd from both teams for this in-state rivalry. Our team is focused on a great week of preparation – it’s a new season and our approach has to be advance or the season may be over.”