The men’s basketball team found success this past weekend in their first two games, winning the Herb Kenny Tip-Off Tournament, hosted in Silloway Gymnasium, as well as defeating SUNY Purchase College. Adding on victories against SAGE College of Albany and Clark University during the Herb Kenny Tournament, the Cardinals have started the season 3–0, although they still have things to work on going forward as the season ramps up.
The team takes the first games of a season as a chance to iron out the group’s playing style and rotations. The Cardinals started practicing on Nov. 1, with their first game only two weeks later.
Head coach Joe Reilly was pleased with the team’s start.
“It was a good first weekend,” Reilly said. “I like our depth of talent and the high character of the team. Early in the season we have to figure out our player rotation and substitution patterns. We don’t have any scrimmages, so we have to figure it out on the fly.”
Captain Kevin McDonald ’20 also recognized the importance of these games as developmental experiences.
“You definitely can’t argue with two wins, but these tip-off tournaments are super helpful to us because we learn quickly what we need to improve on going forward,” McDonald said of the tournament. “It’s one thing for our offensive plays and defense to look good in practice, but there’s more pressure when the lights are on. For such a young team, I thought we stuck together and handled adversity well when our game against Clark was close at the end.”
Early in the season, the team has been led statistically by Sam Peek ’22 and Jordan James ’21. Both players are averaging double-doubles so far this season, with Peek averaging 15.3 points-per-game to go along with 10.7 rebounds-per-game. James, meanwhile, is also averaging 10.7 rebounds-per-game and 13 points per game. The six-foot nine-inch James is going to play an important role for the Cardinals this year, anchoring an extremely tall team across the roster.
Reilly echoed the statement about length and versatility on the court.
“I like the versatility of this team,” Reilly said. “We have great size—we also have some good size at the wing position that can allow us to play some small ball with more speed on the court. I believe we have the ability to match up well with all the teams on our schedule.”
While the team has some players that have the experience of three or four years of college basketball, it is undoubtedly a young team. The Cards lost their top two scorers from last year.
Coach Reilly has full faith in the entirety of the Cardinals roster.
“We anticipate mixing up the starting lineup game to game and have already started three sophomores,” Reilly said. “Two freshmen saw valuable minutes this weekend as well. We believe everyone on our roster has the ability to play high level college basketball. Players have to take advantage of every practice and every second they get on the floor to expand their role.”
While the team won all three games by at least nine points, the games against Clark and SUNY Purchase were close with the Cardinals coming back from a seven-point halftime deficit to win against SUNY Purchase. That comeback demonstrates a will to win from the Cardinals, but it is one that Coach Reilly wants to see more of.
“We need more grit, effort, and focus on the defensive end to reach the lofty goals we have for this season,” Reilly said.
Going forward, the Cardinals have a Little Three matchup against Williams on Saturday in Williamstown, Mass. They have nine more non-conference games, including a trip to Florida during the ice of December, before opening the NESCAC season on Jan. 10 against Tufts.
McDonald spoke on the schedule going forward.
“We always treat our next game as the most important game…but it is hard not to see Williams on the schedule this upcoming Saturday,” McDonald said. “Little Three rival games always have great atmospheres and after dropping a couple games to them last year, we’re excited to go up there and compete. We’ll be preparing this week to head up to Williamstown and win the toughness battle.”
Emilio Weber can be reached at email@example.com.