By Derek Beaven – Staff Writer
Sitting at 18-4, the Centre College Men’s Basketball team has had quite an impressive season thus far. The Colonels have remained a perfect 7-0 at home, posted an eleven-game win streak, and are ranked 22nd in NCAA Division III.
“The season is going great,” junior forward Josh Karsner said. “During the preseason I saw that we had a lot of potential and a lot of new first-years that could really contribute to the program. Once the season started, it took us several games for us to mesh as a team and play well together, but once we did, we turned into a team that can play at a really high level and compete against anybody we face.”
To date, the Colonels have remained undefeated in Southern Athletic Association (SAA) play, going 10-0 and defeating second place Oglethorpe on the road and at home. Despite key wins in gymnasiums across the conference, the SAA has proven to be one of the tougher conferences this year with solid teams from the bottom up.
“Every team [in the SAA] has shown to be capable of winning on any given night,” senior guard Donovan Whiteside said. “We are just focused on improving the standard of play that we have set in the conference.”
Head Coach Greg Mason agreed, pointing out the parity within the conference as one of the biggest challenges so far this season. “The SAA this year is the most balanced it’s been since I’ve been here,” Mason said. “Case in point, we are the number one seed today and we really had to dig deep to beat [eight seed Berry] on our floor Sunday.”
Despite their sterling record, the Colonels have faced their fair share of challenges this year. Centre faced Hope College early in the year, one of the best teams in NCAA Division III. Though they lost the close game, Coach Mason is confident that the team learned their lessons and is better for it.
“[Hope] is one of the titans year in and year out in Division III,” Mason said. “The talent level and size throughout their program was impressive. That was a really good game for us in learning that we had to improve our physicality moving forward if we were going to be a really good sports team.”
One of the biggest keys to the Colonels’ success is the ability for the seniors on the team to set the tone for the younger players. Senior guard Colin Lopez has started all twenty games and has averaged 11.8 points per game, earning the distinction of third on the team.
Whiteside has led the team with minutes per game at 28.5, as well as points per game with 13.9. The leadership of the seniors is key on a team that is full of underclassmen. In addition to three seniors, the roster features eight first-years, five sophomores, and only two juniors.
“Our two starting seniors have really done a great job,” Mason said. “Both are definitely playing their best basketball in a Centre uniform. Both [recognize that this is their final year], which is a good thing. It just means they realize this is the final run for them and they are sacrificing to make sure their last year is memorable.”
With the seniors leading the way, the younger players on the team have really stepped up, filling their roles when needed. First-year guard Ryan Murray has seen action in all twenty games of the season, starting ten of them.
Karsner is joined in the frontcourt by sophomore center Blake Scinta, who has been a solid starter, averaging 10.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game, as well as sophomore Tyler Wesley, who averages 7.2 rebounds per game.
With the end of the season approaching, all of the hard work and dedication that the team has put in thus far will face one final test. Surviving conference play was one thing, yet surviving the conference tournament is another. But the Colonels are just trying to take it one game at a time.
“We just try to get better every day,” Karsner said. “There’s talk about hosting conference tournament and even the NCAA tournament, but we don’t want to look past a single game on our schedule. The next game is the only one that matters to us, and we spend every day in practice preparing ourselves, challenging each other, and gaining understanding of our next opponent.”
The SAA Tournament will begin Fri., Feb. 28.