By JOHN WYATT – SPORTS SECTION EDITOR
Men’s Basketball is a strong athletic tradition at Centre College, and this year’s team is playing like a well-oiled machine.
The Colonels are coming off a strong season from last year, where they went 24-5 (13-1 in conference play), before losing to the Emory University Eagles in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This year, the Colonels started their season off strong, receiving only one loss in the first half of the season to the John Hopkins University Blue Jays during the Washington & Lee University Tournament in December.
The team was highly confident when entering conference play in January, but the Colonels struggled early on, losing two games to the Sewanee University of the South Tigers and the Birmingham-Southern College Panthers.
“We lost confidence in ourselves after those couple of early losses in conference,” senior guard/forward Josh Karsner said. “But once we got that back, we have been a difficult team to take down.”
Karsner is right. After losing to the Rhodes College Lynxes near the end of January, the Colonels won their next seven games. This includes a close win against the Millsaps College Majors this past Sunday, where a strong defensive effort helped them squeak by with the win. Junior forward Tyler Wesley made five of the teams six blocks. They also managed to hold Millsaps shooting to only 44 percent (22-50).
The Colonels are playing well above their competition, but the top spot is still up for grabs. They are tied with the Rhodes College Lynxes for the number one spot in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference, each with a 9-3 record.
“Every game from here on out is vital,” Karsner said. “We are still fighting for the top position in the conference, making every single game a ‘big’ game.”
“All three of our games left are very important,” first-year forward Drew Burns said. “If we want to host the Conference Tournament at home, we need to win these next [two] games to have the best chance.”
Looking forward, the Colonels are feeling optimistic about the remaining season.
“Our team is feeling relaxed and confident,” Burns said. “Any nerves that our team feels motivate us to work harder.”
“We are really excited about the remainder of the season because we know that we are capable of going out and winning every game, it’s just a matter of rising to the challenge.”
While the team set several goals at the start of the season, there are two that seem most important and the first one is just within sight.
“That goal is the conference championship,” sophomore guard Brett Jones said. “Centre has won several conference championships in the past few years and we look to keep that trend going.”
Karsner agrees with the goal of winning a championship, but points to something even more important — brotherhood.
“Our desire is to win conference and make a run in the NCAA tournament, but those are more like destinations,” Karsner said.
“The goals we set were more about daily things we needed to do to become a better team in order to give ourselves the chance of winning conference and playing in the NCAA tournament. One big goal we had as a team was to become a family … and I can say without a doubt we have accomplished that this season.”
This goal of the team’s is the biggest source of their recent success.
“The thing I would attribute to our success this season would be our team chemistry. We consider each other family and we genuinely enjoy being around on another,” Jones said. “I think that is an important factor in how a team plays.”
Regardless of the outcome, Men’s Basketball put on one heck of a performance this season, and it will be exciting to watch the remainder of their season as they look to dominate the conference and make a solid run into the NCAA tournament.