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Men’s basketball eyes playoff berth after comeback win over Hamilton

February 14, 2020

Caroline Flaharty
BACK FROM THE BRINK: (ABOVE) Morgan Edwards ’22 splits two Hamilton defenders in an 81-74 comeback win over the Continentals. (BELOW) Sam Grad ’21, leaping for the tip-off, put up 11 points and 12 rebounds in the victory.

After a turbulent season, the Bowdoin men’s basketball team’s comeback win against Hamilton last Saturday placed the team in a prime position to qualify for the NESCAC playoffs. The team now has a chance to claim the seventh NESCAC playoff seed with a win against Wesleyan at home on Sunday afternoon.

The Polar Bears started out cold against Hamilton last Saturday, trailing 22-37 after the first half. This deficit only widened in the second quarter, with Bowdoin falling behind by 23 points.

“We turned the ball over way too many times and gave them easy buckets,” said Head Coach Tim Gilbride.

The game appeared to be over with 10 minutes to go, but the Polar Bears suddenly closed the gap, responding with a 13-2 run that breathed life back into their chances for victory. Energized by the shift in momentum, the Bowdoin defense held the Continentals to just 11 points for the rest of the game while continuing to gain offensive traction.

David Reynolds ’20 led the team with 33 points, and Jack Shea ’23 chipped in with 13 points off the bench as the team steadily clawed back from the early deficit. With just 25 seconds left, Reynolds scored on an “and-1” to give Bowdoin a three-point lead, but a Hamilton three-pointer five seconds later sent the game to overtime. Bowdoin took the lead and never lost it, resulting in an 81-74 win.

“The game was really electric—after the game, everybody was pretty amped up, and I was pretty excited … about the outcome,” said Shea.

This was an important win for the team because it puts them in prime playoff contention. With only two spots left in the conference playoffs and Bowdoin, Bates, Hamilton and Wesleyan all in the running, the team is primed to claim one of the final seeds this weekend.

“If we win [against Wesleyan this weekend], we’re definitely in the NESCAC playoffs and will probably be the seventh seed,”  said Reynolds.

A win against the Cardinals would guarantee a playoff spot, but a loss doesn’t completely eliminate the team either. There are many possibilities for a playoff spot even with a loss. An earlier win against Bates and last weekend’s Hamilton victory means that the Polar Bears have an advantage in tie-breakers. Bowdoin would still make the tournament should Bates drop one of its final two games against Williams or Middlebury.

But the Hamilton win is more than just a boost to playoff odds. It is a testament to the team’s strength and resilience in what has proven to be a challenging season. Injuries have been a thorn in this team’s side all year—a notable loss has been captain and Maine first-team all-defense point guard Zavier Rucker ’21. The Polar Bears have had to rely more on younger players to fill these roster holes, so most first-year players are getting playing time.

“It’s been different coming from high school,” Shea, one of those first years, said. “I played a different role [in high school] then coming in here, and [I’ve been] trying just to contribute in any way I can.”

Stepping into a college roster without much experience at the level is a demanding role, but the coaches and upperclassmen have been supportive at every turn—giving encouragement, advice and helping to keep the team unified.

“Our seniors and upperclassmen have done a good job of having confidence with us, having confidence in us and giving us some inspiration and giving us some hope,” said Shea.

The shift in the team’s skill set has also necessitated a play style shift from previous years. As opposed to a few years ago, when the team would play more of a shooter’s game where the focus was on creating space to score, this year the team has lacked those long-range scorers and been more defensively focused.

“We’re trying to slow the game down and make it more of a defensive game,” said Reynolds.

“We want to make it a game where we’re really moving the ball well, getting everybody involved, not throwing up shots quickly, then defending well and trying to win that game as if it’s a close game down the stretch,” said Gilbride. “It’s kind of become our mentality, and that’s how we’re hoping we continue to play.”

Despite a 79-74 non-conference loss against Anna Maria College on Wednesday (in which Reynolds shot for a record 10 three-pointers), the momentum is with Bowdoin as it goes into its final game of the regular season against Wesleyan.

“We’re just kind of looking at it like we win, we get in, so that’s really our focus right now,” Reynolds said.

The Polar Bears host Wesleyan on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Morrell Gym.

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