The men’s basketball team (15-8, NESCAC 4-6) has qualified for the NESCAC Championships after failing to make the tournament last year and will travel to face top-seeded Amherst (16-8, NESCAC 7-3) in the quarterfinals on February 17.
Although they began the season with a 6-0 record, the Polar Bears suffered some recent losses, including four of their last five games. Head Coach Tim Gilbride says that many factors throughout the season affected how the team performed this year.
“We started off with some non-league games and actually had some good wins against some very good teams in that stretch,” Gilbride said. “But conference play in general is better than non-conference play. Even within conference, it depends on when you meet certain teams and whether you play at home or on the road, so that can make a difference as well.”
Despite these defeats, captain Hugh O’Neil ’19 is proud that the team has made it to the NESCAC Championships.
“I would say I am pleased with how the regular season ended up,” O’Neil said in an email to the Orient. “There were definitely some games that we could have won, which would have made it an ideal regular season, but the NESCAC is so competitive we are fortunate to make the postseason tournament.”
This past weekend, the Polar Bears faced Connecticut College and Wesleyan, defeating Connecticut by a significant margin of 77-60 and falling to Wesleyan by a score of 74-65. Despite the loss to the Cardinals, Gilbride says that the team is in good shape heading into the tournament.
“It was a great game [against Wesleyan]. Late in the game there was a stretch where we missed some shots, missed some layups and turned the ball over, and they hit shots that made the difference in the game, but we played them very well too,” said Gilbride. “I’ve been pretty happy in general. I think as a team we’ve improved consistently throughout the year, and we’re playing our best basketball right now, which is obviously what you want to do heading into the playoffs.”
This year, the NESCAC Championship tournament has five teams tied for first place—Amherst, Hamilton, Williams, Middlebury and Wesleyan all have a NESCAC record of 7-3. Due to the parity of the league, though, Bowdoin is not far behind, despite being seeded eighth.
Earlier this season, Amherst bested the Polar Bears 75-60 and led in rebounds and assists. The Mammoths’ defensive strategy allowed them to keep the scoring percentage of the Polar Bears at 38.3 percent, far below their own field goal percentage of 50.8 percent.
Gilbride says the players are working on addressing the issues that arose in that game as they prepare to face Amherst again.
“We’d love to defend just a little bit better against them than we did the first time,” said Gilbride. “They got some decent looks and shot well, but hopefully we can affect that a little bit so they don’t shoot quite as well as they did the last time. They did a few things defensively that I think we’ll be able to take advantage of this time … They really worked hard to shut down our top scorers.”
O’Neil is confident in the Polar Bears’ ability to beat Amherst.
“We can play with anyone and we can beat anyone, including Amherst. We expect to win this weekend because we know what we’re capable of. That being said, we are going up against an extremely talented Amherst squad that just beat two of the top five teams in the league. They’re on fire right now,” he said in his email. “But we have a bone to pick with [them]. We lost on a half-court buzzer beater at their place last year and ever since we’ve put a target on their back. It would be great to dish out some payback.”
After not qualifying for the NESCAC Championship last year, Gilbride is confident in the Polar Bears’ ability to perform well on Saturday.
“I think we have a little more depth this year than we had last year, and that’s allowed us to get a few more wins to get into the tournament and to have a chance against pretty much anybody,” he said.