BY BROOKS HOLTON – SPORTS EDITOR
Every basketball team wants to be playing their best game once the calendar hits the latter half of the season. That was the case for the 2016 Colonels (18-9), who rode a five-game winning streak at the tail end of the regular season to finish third overall in the SAA standings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to continue the program’s impressive postseason run as of late—winning two of the last four SAA Tournament titles and appearing in the NCAA Tournament seven of the last ten years. Even with the 68-62 loss to Sewanee in the SAA Semifinals, there were still plenty of takeaways from the 2016 campaign that caught the eye of Head Coach Greg Mason.
“I was very proud of this team for continuing to fight and work together every day with the goal of playing our best basketball at the end of the season,” Coach Mason said. “We did have a couple bumps in the road, which almost any team goes through over the course of the season. A big reason for the inconsistency at times was that we were a very young team trying to develop a championship-level chemistry and we really struggled to shoot from the perimeter for about a 2-month period. But again, we kept working and never rang the bell on our season.”
Leading the team through the highs and lows were senior forwards Blake Scinta—First Team All-SAA selection—and Second Team All-SAA Tyler Wesley. Scinta, also a member of D3Hoops.com’s All-South Region Team, led the Colonels in scoring, averaging 18.1 points per game. Wesley, the SAA Defensive Player of the Year for a third consecutive season, anchored the team’s rebounding with 9.4 boards per game, and also set the SAA record for most blocks in a single season with 74. Rounding out the postseason accolades for the team was junior point guard Matt Gump, named All-SAA honorable mention for the second straight year after leading the Colonels in assists with 74 as well as averaging 8.3 points per game.
“Receiving a postseason accolade in the SAA is a great honor, and helps reflect on what type of season you had individually,” Gump said. “Having three guys receiving postseason honors also means we were a successful team, as very few postseason accolades go to players on bad teams. No player in basketball can receive an award by themselves, rather their teammates are equally as important.”
Gump will play a big role in the Colonels bouncing back from an unsatisfying end to 2016, especially with the departure of the integral Class of 2016.
“The impact of this senior class was very strong,” Coach Mason said. “Our four seniors graduate with a better career record than the senior classes at both North Carolina and Michigan State. We will be much more perimeter based in how we will play next season, and I anticipate that helping Matt Gump…As I mentioned to our players in the locker room after our loss to Sewanee, we as a program need to have an excellent off-season. And I’m anticipating many of our current players working hard on their games to give themselves a chance to step up and expand their roles.”
With the lofty expectations that surround the start of every new season, Gump believes that the Class of 2017 will be ready to learn from the lessons of 2016 and move forward with the same values and work ethic that has come to be expected from the program.
“Being a guy that has played under Coach Mason for three seasons now, I believe he will expect me to both help the incoming freshman and help the upperclassmen evolve as players,” he said, “Coach Mason uses these postseason losses as lessons: if we ever feel like we are ‘good enough’ or have ‘arrived’ as players, it is easy to remember the feeling of disappointment after both of those games.”
Gump comments that the SAA has been Centre’s conference to lose these last few seasons.
“We will surely be working to get back on top. As for the seniors, I do not think I am alone in saying this senior class will be missed both on and off the basketball court. I find myself very lucky to have played with these four, as they are a group that has broken records and cut down nets.”