The Wesleyan men’s basketball team continued their undefeated start to the season over the past week with strong wins over Emmanuel College and Williams. Against Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, the Cards took care of business against their weak opponent, winning by 20 points. The team was led by Jordan Bonner ’19, who scored 21 points, and Kevin O’Brien ’19, who only had five points but added 11 rebounds and nine assists.
The team played as well as they have all season, albeit against a much stronger opponent, when they traveled to Williamstown, MA to take on the third-ranked Williams’ Ephs this past Saturday. Though the game did not count for NESCAC standings, playing a Little Three rival surely provided plenty of motivation, as the team conquered the Ephs 72-67 in overtime.
“I’m really proud of the result for the team though it’s important for us to recognize that it’s only one game,” Head coach John Reilly said. “We beat Marietta when they were ranked highly as well as Amherst. It’s exciting to win this game, but we’ve done it before and we have to stay focused on the next game.”
The game was tied at both the end of the first and second halves as both teams dug in defensively. Wesleyan shot 37.5 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range while Williams shot 37.1 percent and 27.3 percent, respectively. The Cards were led by their upperclassmen as Bonner scored 22 points, Jordan Sears ’18 netted 10 points and 10 rebounds, and O’Brien continued his all-around play with eight points, nine boards, six assists, four steals, and two blocks. Upperclassmen taking the lead has been a theme in the early season for the team.
“Our upperclassmen set the tone, [and] our three seniors and two juniors have been great leaders for us, both on and off the court,” Coach Reilly said.
In the past, the Cardinals’ prided themselves on their strong defense and rebounds, and they lived up to the hype in the game against Williams. While holding the Ephs to under 40 percent shooting, the team also dominated the rebounding battle, controlling the boards with a 51-38 edge.
“Our identity has been our defense and rebounding, and I’m really pleased with that so far this season,” Coach Reilly said. “Those aspects are how you remain consistent throughout the season and have success for the long haul. Our goal is to win a Little Three championship, but really with that, if you’re good enough to win the Little Three, you’re good enough to compete for the NESCAC championship, and if you’re good enough to compete for the NESCAC championship, you’re probably one of the top teams in the country.”
The Cards have gotten off on the right path to fulfill those goals, but they have a long way to go to complete them. The NESCAC is always one of the most competitive conferences in the NCAA Division III, across all sports. In the latest edition of the Division III basketball rankings, four NESCAC teams were in the top 25, with two other teams, one of which was Wesleyan, receiving votes.
Along with numerous top 25 matchups in the future, Wesleyan and all of the NESCAC have to deal with the challenges of being in an academically demanding environment, and a long winter break.
“All the NESCAC schools have the same calendar, we’re off for finals and then the guys are home for nine days before they come back to school,” said Coach Reilly. “There’s a lot of work that must be done to stay in shape and a lot of trust given to the players. We have a game only three days after we get back, so I think that will help us make sure we stay in shape. But ultimately every team faces this hurdle and the hardest working and most disciplined teams will have the most success at the start of the spring semester.”
The team will round out 2017 with back-to-back games at Springfield College on Saturday, Dec. 30 and Sunday, Dec 31. However, before the break begins, the Cards will continue their road trip with a visit to Vassar College on Wednesday, Dec. 6. After that, they will finally return home to face off against Brandeis with a special pre-finals showcase on Dec. 9.
Emilio Weber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.