The men’s basketball season ended last Saturday as the team fell to Tufts in a NESCAC Championship quarterfinal, 82-71.
Despite early concerns about the team’s ability to be competitive after losing a talented crop of seniors, the Polar Bears made it just as far in the playoffs as they did last year, and were within three wins of the same record. The team will return four of its five starters and is in good shape for the next season.
Sharpshooter Andrew Madlinger ’14 led the No. 5 Polar Bears with 22 points on only 14 shots, including 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point land. Keegan Pieri ’15 put up 14 points and nine rebounds. Bryan Hurley ’15 played his usual role of floor general, scoring 11 points while handing out nine assists.
“It was a very well-played game by both teams,” said Gilbride. “We only had eight turnovers and they had nine. Both teams shot and executed well. It was pretty much what you’d expect from a tournament game with two teams that were playing pretty well going in.”
“There were several possessions where [Tufts] got offensive rebounds at critical times,” said Head Coach Tim Gilbride. “That’s one of their greatest strengths as a team, and it showed at important points in the game.”
Bowdoin trailed for the entire first half, although Tufts’ lead never exceeded eight points.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a game where one team would go on a massive run at the beginning and pull away,” said captain Max Staiger ’13. “It was going to be a grind right until the end.”
Midway through the second half, the Polar Bears went on a 17-5 run to take a 67-61 lead. Hurley sliced and diced the Jumbo defense, scoring or assisting on 11 of those points. But the Bowdoin offense soon lost its momentum—it missed its next 11 shots and allowed Tufts to finish the game on a massive 21-4 run.
“Their last run put us out of time,” said Gilbride. “By the time they were up seven, there were only two minutes left to play. You’re put in a situation where you have to score on every possession, and that’s difficult.”
According to Madlinger, the teams’ insistence on tying as soon as possible came back to bite them.
“We weren’t patient,” he said. “We didn’t use the entire shot clock. When we used all 35 seconds, we broke them down defensively. Late in the game we started going for quick baskets, and that’s when we missed shots.”
Bowdoin concludes the season with a 14-10 record, an impressive finish given that the team graduated leading scorers from last year, Will Hanley ’12 and Ryan O’Connell ’12 last year.
“I was a little unsure how we would fare after losing Will and Ryan,” said Gilbride. “That was alleviated quickly, because Max and Nick [Lenker ’13] did a great job providing leadership and focus for our team.”
The team graduated five seniors last year, who accounted for 60 percent of the team’s points and nearly 49 percent of its rebounds. Next season, the Polar Bears will lose very little of their offensive and defensive production, returning players who scored 86 percent of its points this year and snagged 83 percent of all rebounds, compared to 40 percent and 51 percent from last year, respectively. Seven-footer John Swords ’15, second-leading scorer Pieri, and Hurley, who was second in the nation in assists per game, will all be juniors next season. The team’s leading scorer, Madlinger, and his fellow perimeter scorer Matt Mathias ’14 will provide senior leadership.
“Sometimes they see where they fell short and they work like crazy and come back and have a fantastic year,” said Gilbride, who has been coaching the Polar Bears since 1985. “Sometimes they say ‘We’re a year older, we’ve got a lot of guys returning and we’re going to be good.’ Without taking the extra step, they fall short.”
Historically speaking, returning a high number of point-scorers and rebounders bodes well for the team’s next season. In the 2007, the men’s basketball team finished 22-7, made it to the NESCAC finals, and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. That season they returned 80 percent of their points and 90 percent of their rebounds from the previous season.
Returning offensive and defensive playmakers is one thing, but according to Gilbride, bringing back veteran leadership is just as, if not more, important.
“A lot of players got experience this year in close games and big games,” said Gilbride. “If guys work to get better along with the depth of experience they now have, we have a chance to have a good year. I’m looking forward to it.”