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Men’s basketball adjusts to midseason challenges

January 31, 2020

COURTESY OF BRIAN BEARD
UP, UP AND AWAY: Sam Grad ’21 explodes upwards for a dunk during last weekend’s 81-67 loss to undefeated Colby. Following the loss of team captain Zavier Rucker ’20, Grad is one of a number of players who has stepped up to fill the offensive void left by Rucker, averaging 12.5 points per game this season.
After starting the season by winning three of its first five games, the Bowdoin men’s basketball team has proceeded to struggle. Entering the crucial final stretch of the season, where the Polar Bears will play their five remaining NESCAC games in just over two weeks, they are currently sitting at 6-11 overall and 1-4 in the conference, good for ninth place in the league.

Between losing three seniors to graduation (including Jack Simonds ’19, who was an 1,000-point scorer), having players fall to injuries and struggling to mesh as an offensive unit, the team has faced its fair share of difficulties. As the Polar Bears approach their final five conference matchups, they sit one game out of playoff contention.

Head Coach Tom Gilbride discussed the team’s approach as they head into this final stretch. “We’re obviously going to take one game at a time,” said Gilbride.

Despite its recent struggles, Gilbride remains optimistic. “I thought we’ve played our last two games very hard. We played Colby in a conference game that was a very good [one].”

Although the Polar Bears ultimately ended up falling to Colby, they put up a valiant effort, trading punches with the number one-ranked Mules until the fourth quarter.

“We were actually up five with 11 minutes left,” said captain David Reynolds ’20. “We ended up losing by 12, but they’re also the best team in the country. [They are] undefeated, so we definitely have shown that we can hang with anyone.”

Reynolds has been a bright spot in an otherwise unfortunate year for the Polar Bear offense. He is averaging 21.0 points per game, and his leadership, along with the leadership of the other seniors, has been critical to the team’s attitude over the course of the year.

“When you’re having some tough losses or some tough games you really need guys that are going to look at themselves and look at the team and say hey, let’s just keep working to get a little better,” said Gilbride.

Leadership is particularly important when you have a team facing unexpected challenges. Captain Zavier Rucker ’21 was injured in a game against St. Joseph’s and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season. It was an especially untimely injury because the Polar Bears were just heading into the thick of conference play.

There have been some growing pains as the team learns to play without its captain, but this has resulted in other players stepping up and taking on larger roles.

“Sam Grad [’21] has really stepped up and has taken on a lot of that scoring load and playing load as well,” said Gilbride.

He also noted that Zander Werkman ’23 has come into his own as the season has progressed, a sentiment echoed by Reynolds.

“We’re one of the lowest-scoring offenses right now, so that’s been a little bit of a struggle for us” said Reynolds. “We definitely don’t have the same offensive firepower [this year], but our defense adapts well and has gotten a lot better. We’re more of a defensive team—it’s just really figuring out how to gel offensively at this point.”

Reynolds believes that the team chemistry is trending up and feels like this group is particularly close.

“Outside of basketball we’ve all become super close. I love the [first-year] class, and obviously the sophomores and juniors too, but I really feel like the [first-years’s] presence this year has made us a lot closer than in past years.”

As the team looks to remedy its woes for these last five games, Reynolds is focused on leadership.

“I guess it’s kind of my responsibility to … lead by example and come to practice [every day] and give my best effort. Doing what we need to do is really the most important thing,” said Reynolds. “We have all the pieces … we definitely are a talented group, and I think we have had a tough season but there’s still definitely hope for the NESCAC tournament. [If we get in] then anything can happen at that point.”

The Polar Bears have a long weekend ahead, playing two critical conference games, starting with a game at Tufts tonight at 7 p.m. followed by a contest at Bates on Saturday at 3 p.m..

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