c/o Max Forstein

c/o Max Forstein

The Wesleyan men’s basketball team entered a new era this year as they graduated an accomplished core of seniors including captains Preston Maccoux ’23, Shackylle Dezonie ’23, and Gabe Millstein ’23, as well as the team’s leading scorer Gabe Ravetz ’23. This season the young Cards stepped up to the challenge and have found immediate success in their new larger roles.

Captain Nicky Johnson ’25 praised what the younger players have been able to do for the team.

“Some of the freshmen have been doing great,” Nicky Johnson said. “Josh Cameron ’27, Ben Lyttle-Murrain ’27, game by game, they’re really finding their rhythm. Jackson Cormier ’26, he didn’t play one game last year, and now he’s started every game. And also Sam Pohlman ’26 [is] the hardest-working player on the court every time.”

Captain Steven Johnson ’23 MA ’24 talked about the team’s feelings going into the season.

“We put a lot more pressure on ourselves last year, and we were playing uptight,” Steven Johnson said. “So this year felt more like a fresh start. We’re kind of underdogs that people don’t really expect to be as good as we are. And so we’re hungry. And we just came out and blitzed people. We were all having fun.”

The Cards started their season off strong on Nov. 10 at the Rutgers-Newark Tournament in Newark, N.J., taking on Hiram College. The Red and Black put on a stellar offensive showcase as they ran the Terriers out of the gym with a final score of 103–68, with a balanced attack as 5 Cards reached double-digit point totals and a whopping 18 players saw game action.

Less than 24 hours later, the Red and Black suited up to take on Springfield College in the championship match, and once again they were unwavering. Thanks to 25 points from guard Shane Regan ’25 and an efficient double-double from forward Jared Langs ’25, the Cards led for the entire game and knocked off Springfield 83–51.

Nicky Johnson considers the Springfield matchup an important win for the team’s progress.

“I think at our Springfield game we really clicked,” Nicky Johnson said. “They’re a tough team. They’re really good defensively. We played them last year, and it was a battle. And Shane Regan came out and just did his thing, and the team was just firing on all cylinders.”

Following the successful weekend in Newark, the Cards left for Boston, Mass. to play in the Emmanuel College Tournament. The tournament started easily as Wesleyan bested Skidmore College 75–60, but they faced more adversity in the championship game against Endicott College. Around midway through the first period, the Gulls began to pull away, and by half they led the Cards by 14 points. The Red and Black kept level with Endicott in the second half, but with only four minutes remaining, they were down 61–70. Then Wes locked in and hit shot after shot until, with a little over a minute remaining, Nicky Johnson hit a close shot to tie the score at 70. One possession later Regan hit a jumper in the paint to give Wes a two-point lead in a tight game they would go on to win 73–71. Regan spoke about the importance of the Endicott game.

“The Endicott game was a big one because we’re a young inexperienced team, and that was our first time trying to face that adversity,” Regan said. “Down like 15 at half, things weren’t clicking. But the guys made really big plays down the stretch for us: got big stops, big baskets, just high-level plays for us. And that allowed us to win the game.”

After a heartbreaking loss to Farmingdale College on a buzzer-beating three and a solid 10-point win against Worcester State University, in which Lyttle led the scoring with 23, the Cards took on No. 15 Williams in the Herb Kenny Tribute Game on Dec. 2. It was a tough-fought battle with seven lead changes in the last five minutes, but the Ephs secured a 60–62 victory, taking the lead in the final minute. Nicky Johnson underscored the lessons learned from this tight loss.

c/o Max Forstein

c/o Max Forstein

“We can look at that game to show that every little play matters down the stretch,” Nicky Johnson said. “So just being a little more disciplined and diligent when we play has paid off dividends.”

After the disappointing Williams game, the Cards went on an offensive tear over their next three games, torching Colby-Sawyer College, Bridgewater State University, and Saint Joseph’s College of Maine by scores of 96–68, 98–65, and 109–83. Over the span of these games, the team shot over 55% from the field and brought their overall record to 8–2 on the season. Nicky Johnson talked about the team’s style of play during this span.

“When we’re at our best is when people are just flowing and playing freely,” Johnson said. “And I think those three games we found that rhythm early, and we were able to keep on tapping into that.”

Steven Johnson lauded the defense during this stretch.

“I think the most underrated part is the defense, because our offense comes from our defense,” Johnson said. “When the defense is going, and we get out and run, everyone just gets into a rhythm and really clicks.”

After the show was over, the Cards hit a small rough patch, which saw them drop games to Eastern Connecticut State University (79–87) and Amherst (66–71), with these being their last two games before conference play began.

Steven Johnson talked about dealing with these losses.

“It’s tough when you lose during winter break,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot tougher. Because all you do is play basketball. You’re a professional basketball player. So you just gotta stay locked and learn from your losses without letting it affect your confidence. I think we handled it pretty well.”

The Cards looked to find a momentum swing as they took on Bowdoin on Jan. 5. After Bowdoin started hot in the first half, the Red and Black recovered and ended the period up by five. In the second half, Wes kept the lead and ran away with the win at the end by a score of 88–67. Nicky Johnson led the way with a season-high 27 points, along with 7 assists and 6 steals.

Although the Cards won decidedly, Regan acknowledged how hard-fought a game it was.

“You know, that was a tough game,” Regan said. “People might look at the score and see we won by 20, but Bowdoin really came to play, and we had to have big-time performances from multiple guys to win that game.”

After success against the Polar Bears came the first stop on a Cardinal revenge tour as the Red and Black took on Colby, to whom they lost in the first round of the NESCAC Playoffs last season. Having turned over a new leaf, Wes looked to even the score, and that they did, thanks to a season-high 21 points for Fritz Hauser ’26 and a near triple-double from Nicky Johnson (13 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists). The Cards left the Mules in the dust, beating them 101–83 for their second NESCAC victory of the season.

After the dominant victory, Wes hit a rough spot that would test their confidence.

Firstly, the Cards went into the break down by 10 in their game against Conn. College, but they were able to recover and cut the deficit to one point before the Camels closed it out with a score of 57–64. Next, they took on Mitchell College and were not able to cut it against the Mariners (79–95). On Jan. 20, the Cards put up a massive fight against No. 5 Trinity. Wesleyan held a decent lead throughout the first half and into the second, but Trinity came back and took their first late lead with 11 minutes to go. With 19 seconds left, Wes was down 68–70, but with ice in his veins, Pohlman hit a jumper from the paint to send the game into overtime. It was there, however, that the Cardinals came up short, as they trailed the whole way and lost by a score of 77–79. 

On Jan. 22, Wes crushed Yeshiva University 90–56, due in large part to 21 points scored by Cormier, improving their overall record to 11–7. They looked to use this as momentum against Amherst four days later. Unfortunately, the energy was still not quite in their favor, as the Red and Black trailed the Mammoths by small deficits throughout the game, but was never able to get over the hump and take a lead, eventually falling 63–70.

For most teams, a stretch like this could really shake your confidence in your ability to compete, but through all these games the Cards kept the belief that they were a high-caliber team going into their matchup with Hamilton on Jan. 27. Last year, Wes lost to Hamilton during the regular season, and they looked to find revenge, but more importantly, get their season back on the right track.

The game was tight, as anticipated, with neither team leading by more than five points for all of the first half and most of the second. The Cards built an eight-point lead with five minutes to go in regulation, but the Continentals stormed back and the buzzer sounded with the score tied at 68. Overtime was a back-and-forth battle as the score changed seven times in a mere five-minute period, but with 20 seconds to go, the Cardinals found themselves down by one (76–77). They held for a late shot, and with 1 second left on the clock, Pohlman was fouled going up for a layup. With the pressure on, he made the first free throw but missed the second, sending the game to a thrilling second overtime. Nicky Johnson talked about the mindset of the team as the minutes ticked away.

“The emotions were high, but with any game you want to try to stay as level as possible,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to get too high or too low. And for those last few minutes, you just try to make that late-game push, and you take it play by play.”

In what had been a nail-biter of a game, Wes came out decisively and put away the Continentals with big shots from Regan and Langs to get the win 89–83. Regan had a career night with 31 points and 8 assists and Langs put up quite a statline of his own with 18 points (5 in the second OT) and 11 boards. 

It’s easy to doubt a young team and knock them for lack of experience, but the 2023–24 Cardinals have shown time and time again that they have what it takes to compete with any team they face. Thanks to their fast-paced play, Wesleyan leads the NESCAC in points per game and has outscored their opponents by an average of 10 points a game. As the focus shifts to the final two weekends of regular season play (Middlebury Feb. 2, Williams, Feb. 3, Tufts Feb. 9, and Bates Feb. 10), Wes has all the momentum and the grit to do what they know they’re capable of. Steven Johnson thinks they have what it takes.

“We’ve blown out teams, we’ve lost by double digits, and we’ve been in close games,” Johnson said. “And I think that there’s so many moments in the season where things could have fallen apart. But we stayed strong through that. I think we’re at a point where we’re very locked in. I think we’ve learned enough lessons this season to know what we gotta do, which is good for a young team. And yeah, we’ve been through it, and now we’re ready.”

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu

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