A rough two weeks to open the season ended on a high note for the College’s men’s basketball team as it picked up its first win of the season this past Saturday, Nov. 30.
The Lions (1-5, 0-2) had faced little but disappointment before the win, losing each of their first two games by three points and the next three in blowouts by double digits.
The College began the season against The City College of New York, eventually falling 76-73 after City hit a buzzer-beater. Sophomore forward Bobby Brackett — in his first regular season game with the team — led the Lions with 21 points and 17 rebounds, while junior guard Jayson Johnson contributed 20 points.
Up next was Western Connecticut University, a contest that saw the Lions battle back and forth with the visiting Colonials in their first home game of the season before being dropped 83-80. In another strong showing, Brackett racked up 27 points — including several crowd-raising dunks — to lead all scorers, and junior forward Alex Fox kept the College in the game until the final seconds with two cold-blooded threes as time ran down.
“We needed (the late threes), honestly,” Fox said. “They gave me the ball, I just had to get the shot up. You don’t have much time to think about it. You’ve just got to get it done.”
The College’s third game didn’t go any better. In its first NJAC game, the team fell to William Paterson 87-69. Despite the lopsided score, the contest never felt like a blowout, as the team didn’t display signs of panic despite the numbers on the scoreboard. Leading the charge again was Brackett, who put up 18 points and 15 rebounds, with Johnson netting 11 and freshman guard Eric Klacik chipping in 10.
“We just have to fix a lot of little things,” Johnson said. “Mainly defense. We gave up a lot of transition points, which broke the game out. We need to make it our best effort to get back on defense (and) try to stop them in transition, try to run the offense rather than just letting them run up and down the court and get points.”
Making adjustments will be the difference between a successful season and last year’s form.
“We’ll be fine by the middle of the year. We just have to fix a lot of little things,” Brackett said. “We’ll do it sooner rather than later.”
One definite highlight of the team’s opening week came when Klacik was named Rookie of the Week by the NJAC after starting all three of the team’s games and averaging seven points and three assists.
Another setback was to come in the form of the College’s worst loss of the season so far, in a 65-46 defeat to Richard Stockton despite solid games from junior forward Jason Chalmers, who had 11 points and 9 boards, and Brackett, who continued to lead the Lions with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
The team’s final loss of the opening weeks was dealt by Bridgewater College, 78-68, even though five Lions scored in double digits. Turnovers and transition defense continued to be an issue for the College, as the defense allowed 24 points off of turnovers and 18 on the break.
Ending the losing streak was a winning effort put forth by the team against Centenary College this weekend, as the Lions prevailed 78-70, thanks to a balanced scoring attack led by junior forward Skyelar Ettin and Chalmers, who had 17 and 16 points, respectively. The win came as the College connected on over 55 percent of their shots from deep.
“It was nice for the guys to get a win,” head coach Kelly Willaims said. “We haven’t played badly in previous games, we just had too many mental mistakes with unforced turnovers that changed the momentum of some of the earlier games.”
The Lions can draw from the win over Centenary, though, as they enter the NJAC season.
“Hopefully we will gain some confidence from our performance against Centenary,” Williams said. “Bobby Brackett has been off to a good start and now Jason Chalmers and Skye Ettin are playing better as well, which is a must for us to be a good team. Jayson Johnson has struggled early in the season but had a great floor game on Saturday, which is encouraging as we move into conference play.”
The coach, much like his players, is certain that the team needs no more than small tweaks and adjustments to make sure this win is followed by more.
“Our effort has been great over the first six games. Now we have to continue to concentrate on our execution for 40 minutes,” Williams said. “Our goal from day one was to get better every day, and for the most part we have. Hopefully that will result in more wins throughout the season.”