Just hours after celebrating the holidays with their families, Bowdoin’s basketball players were conditioning for NESCAC conference games in the tropics of Florida. Their hard work paid off as the team returned from break with two wins this past weekend, beating Colby 83-77 after losing to the Mules in a close non-conference game earlier this season, and beating Pine Manor 73-67.
“We went down [to Florida] on December 26th,” said head men’s basketball Coach Timothy Gilbride, “Trained for 5 days, then had a scrimmage against a team from Canada. We had a lot of practices in a row to really work on trying to improve ourselves as a team.”
After returning to campus in January, the team played multiple games a week, moving away from competing against non-conference games to face NESCAC rivals.
“NESCAC [games] start over break,” said team captain Jack Simonds ’19. “That’s definitely when we ramp it up.”
The Colby game was a necessary win, especially after losing to the Mules 89-84 earlier in the season.
“When we first played them, we were undefeated and that was the best start we’ve had in a couple of years with the program so we were really disappointed to lose that one,” Simonds said. “This time around it was crucial to get a win against Colby because last year we missed out on the NESCAC playoffs and Colby’s supposed to be towards the bottom of the league. It’s important for us to get those wins when we can.”
Before Winter Break, Bowdoin basketball games are primarily non-conference, played against teams outside of NESCAC. These games do not affect regional rankings, but they are important in deciding at large bids for the NCAA tournament. The men’s team is 13-4 overall with six more games remaining. If it can finish the season with 18 or more wins, the team has a strong chance of receiving a tournament bid.
The number of wins is not the only factor in determining a tournament position. The quality of each team beaten may be the deciding factor, as wins against better opponents will be looked on more favorably by the selection committee.
“NESCAC is the top Division III conference,” said Simonds, “So we try to get as many wins as possible [from our] conference. When you get to the NESCAC, anybody can beat anyone. It’s hard to get a win.”
Coming off a Colby victory, the team is looking toward key leaders, such as David Reynolds ’20, to take control on the court. With a career high of 29 points in a game last week, Reynolds was named NESCAC player of the week.
This weekend the Polar Bears host Hamilton and Amherst. Hamilton’s season record is 16-1, NESCAC 3-1 and Amherst (10-6, NESCAC 2-2) is consistently a top contender for the NESCAC championships. Bowdoin’s conference record is 2-2.
“We really are [at] a classic turning point,” said captain Hugh O’Neil ’19. “A 2-4 [record] in the conference places us toward the bottom. 4-2 sets us up to have a very special season.”
Over the season, the men’s basketball team steadily improved team trust and technical skill, but a glaring weakness on the court may prove fatal this weekend.
“I think our biggest challenge going forward is to shrink the inconsistency we have throughout the game,” said Simonds. “I think we’re a great team, we just don’t have it all the time. We don’t buy into the defense [or] we’re not rebounding as hard as we could. Every possession counts.”
Co-Captain O’Neil offered a strategy to combat inconsistencies on the court.
“I feel like a lot of times when you’re trying to improve as a team you focus on the negative aspects and end up putting yourself down more. If we continue to focus and actually improve, we should celebrate those moments and highlight them as what we’re aiming to have [during a] full game.”
Coach Gilbride expects swift offense from Hamilton on Friday and a more controlled approach to the basket from Amherst the next day.
“[Hamilton] attacks you very quickly,” said Coach Gilbride, “And with five guys that can all dribble and pass and shoot they’ll spread us out and try to get to the basket. Amherst is traditionally one of the stronger teams in the league and well coached. They have good size and they shoot the ball very well so they’ll run more set plays we’ll have to work [hard] at trying to defend.”
Bowdoin needs wins against Hamilton and Amherst this weekend to compete for the NESCAC championship.
“I think we have the talent to make a run for the NESCAC championship,” said Simonds. “We should be there in the last game of the season.”