Wolverines riding sky-high

More news about: Johns Hopkins | Wesley

David Langan
Wesley athletics photo

Not many teams enjoyed a better week than the Wesley men’s basketball team.

The Wolverines won three games in six days, including consecutive victories over nationally ranked Christopher Newport and Mary Washington to end the week. The latter triumph, a 68-67 thriller over Mary Washington was a pulse-pounder that featured more drama and suspense than an episode of “CSI.”

When the dust cleared after A.J. Tilghman’s free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining, Wesley had knocked off its second consecutive nationally ranked conference opponent, this time, then-17th-ranked Mary Washington, raised its overall record to 11-1 overall and  extended their winning streak to six games. Not bad for a program that entered the season without do-all-everything Paul Reynolds from last year’s NCAA tournament squad.

“When you looked at our schedule coming into the year and losing Paul Reynolds, I thought we’d be around .500 at this point in the season,” Wesley coach Jerry Kobasa said. “Honestly, I thought we could be a good team. We had some good players, who took a backseat to Paul last year, returning. I think the players took it as a personal challenge to show people that we could still win without Paul.”

The Wolverines are doing more than winning. They are thriving with their highest national ranking in program history (No. 14). Wesley has established itself as the team to beat in the Capital Athletic Conference, one of the top Division III conferences in the country. Amazingly, Wesley has won 11 of its first 12 games despite playing three home games. The Wolverines will play a second consecutive home game for the first time this season when they welcome Salisbury to Wentworth Gym in the annual “Route 13” battle. 

Wesley has a tremendous amount of depth that has fueled its strong start to the season. The Wolverines have three players averaging double figures in senior David Langan (16.4 points per game) James Livingston (15.9) and junior Quincy Pettiford (10.9 points). Senior Eric Selby chips in 9.1 points per outing for Wesley. Overall, the Wolverines have at least eight players averaging six points or more: sophomore Wayne Lennon (7.8), Tilghman (6.6), senior Brandon Youngblood (6.8), sophomore Anthony Bowers (6.1).

It seems as if many players have enjoyed a shining moment or two during Wesley’s hot start to the season. Wesley’s defense has also been stifling this season as they have held half of their opponents to 55 or fewer points.

They have helped Wesley knock off then-No. 8 Hampden-Sydney back in November. Livingston scored a career-high 23 points and knocked down an 18-foot jumper with 24 seconds remaining to seal the 78-72 victory. A senior from Wilmington, Del., Selby, who is normally the primary distributer of the basketball, made 7-of-10 shots from the floor, including one three, and sunk five free throws to lead all scorers with 20 points in the Wolverines impressive 64-46 road victory at then-No. 14 Christopher Newport last week.

“Everybody is playing well and with our schedule, we have gotten used to being on the road,” Kobasa said. “Our players have sacrificed a lot and we have depth that we haven’t had in a long time. I have a unique group of kids this year. We have no real superstar, just a lot of good players playing good basketball and who believe in each other.”

Since the Wolverines have logged lots of miles this season traveling across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel to Virginia, the mountains of western Maryland and up the Garden State Parkway, Kobasa has turned the road trips into entertaining educational opportunities for his group. He has made it a point to have a historical basketball movie playing on the bus as a way to help his team appreciate the opportunities they have of attending school and playing basketball. Some of the movies the Wolverines have watched this season include Glory Road, Black Magic, Magic & Bird: The Courtship of Rivals and The Mighty Macs.

“I was impressed with my team’s reaction to the Mighty Macs,” Kobasa said. “They really enjoyed that movie. We have discussions about each movie. I try to find movies that are historical and get them to understand the history and what was going on during that era.”

In his eight seasons as the head coach, Kobasa has rebuilt the program at his alma mater.  A long-time respected fixture in Delaware sports, Kobasa took a team that had just two winning seasons in 17 years before his arrival and taken them to the NCAA Tournament  three times in the last five seasons.

Kobasa was a successful coach at Sussex Tech High and he was also a quarterbacks coach at Delaware State University, a historically black college located a 3-point shot away from Wesley’s campus. A football and baseball standout at Wesley, Kobasa is delighted to be able to help his alma mater become part of conversation of national championship contenders and raising the profile of Wesley hoops.

Now the winningest coach in Wesley’s history as a Division III school, Kobasa's teams have produced a pair of All-Americans, two conference players of the year, three conference rookies of the year, five ECAC All-Star selections and ten all-region honors.  The Wolverines have had a first team all-conference player in seven of his eight seasons.

“Reason I came back to Wesley was because I had an opportunity to give back to my alma mater,” Kobasa said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without my experiences at Wesley. My goal when I came here was to try and restore the program to where (former coach Jim Wentworth) had it when Wesley was a junior college. We’ve done pretty well the last few years and now we want to take the next step. Sometimes they say it’s not the destination, but the journey along the way. I’ve had a pretty good journey.”

The Wolverines still have many obstacles to clear on the remaining ride that is 2014. Wesley’s schedule is still loaded with two games against St. Mary’s, conference rematches against Marymount, Mary Washington, and Christopher Newport. There is also a rescheduled game at undefeated Cabrini on Monday, Feb. 3 that is growing in deliciousness as the date gets closer. It could be a rare February non-conference showdown between teams ranked in the top 10.

“My team keeps me young,” Kobasa said. “It’s been a good ride so far and we still have work to do this year. Our conference is tough and it reminds me of the old Big East.”

Conteh’s journey

Johns Hopkins senior guard Fatu Conteh has a nice appreciation for life in America after traveling to Cape Town, South Africa studying HIV/AIDS two summers ago and spending seven weeks at the University of Cape Town.

“It was my first time traveling outside the country and it just really opened my eyes to a different world and it was so beautiful, the landscape and the mountains,” Conteh said. “Seeing a different culture was an eye-opener. There are a lot of kids there and it’s unfortunate because they are like 13 year olds and they’re stuck with having to make a major decision, like should they go to college or stay at home and get a job. A lot of us don’t realize how many opportunities we really have compared to those in foreign countries. That trip made me grateful for what I really have.”

A neuroscience major and psychology minor, Conteh has also been busy outside of helping the Blue Jays to a 7-0 start in the Centennial Conference for the first time since 2006. The Blue Jays leading scorer at 11.8 points per game is working at a pediatric clinic in downtown Baltimore and writing a paper about stress and OCD. Conteh, who plans to attend graduate school and become a pediatric psychologist, is one of the captains of the Blue Jays this season and she would like nothing more to help Johns Hopkins win its first Centennial Conference regular season title since 2003.

“It’s my last year and  am very motivated to win the Centennial Conference title but the great thing about it is I have 15 other girls with me that have the same drive and passion to win it as well,” Conteh said. “I know my underclassmen want to win that title for me and our program as a whole. It feels good to be 7-0 in the conference, but we all know that we have a long way to go. We are looking to get better every day.”

Conteh used to be a dancer when she was younger. However, she traded in her dancing shoes for high top sneakers in fifth grade, mostly because she wanted to be like her older brother, Khalil. She has enjoyed the sport ever since. Conteh had some struggles with knee injuries the last two years after showing promise as a freshman. However, her biggest improvement has been at the foul line.

Conteh averaged 4.2 points per game last year and finishing first on the team in steals (60) and assists (62) last season. Known for her great defense and ball-handling ability, Conteh is shooting 71.1 percent from the foul line this year (43-for-60). She scored a career-high 21 points against Ursinus on Nov. 22. Overall, she has reached double digits in scoring eight times. Conteh also had a double-double in a win over Gettysburg College on Dec. 3.

“It’s great to see her emerge as such as a leader this year,” Johns Hopkins coach Nancy Funk said. “She showed promise as a freshman and was a little one dimensional in that everyone played her for the drive when they figured out who she was. The last two years, she really didn’t get into a flow. Now you can see that she wants it bad and she’s doing a lot of fundamental things well. She’s not always driving to the basket. She is looking for her pull up here and there. More than anything else, she’s keeping the team together. Her and Alyssa Flemming are very good leaders and they manage to pull them in when the team starts to fragment.”

FDU-Florham on a roll as well

The FDU-Florham women’s basketball team improved to 12-0 after a pair of wins over Kean (91-62) and Baruch (77-52). The Knights’ margin of victory has been 27.5 points. In each game last week, the Knights attempted at least 40 free throws. FDU-Florham has been paced all season by the brilliance of junior Kyra Dayon, who is averaging 16.3 points per game. Dayon collected her fourth double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) in the win over Baruch. Sophomore Schalette Brown is averaging 11.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. Sophomore Rachel Groom is scoring 12.4 points per contest has reached double digits in 10 games. This author is looking forward to seeing Dayon play in person in the near future.

NJAC madness

Some may call Montclair State’s 70-69 win over Richard Stockton on Saturday as an upset. But it wasn’t. It was just another day in the wild and fun NJAC. Freshman guard Erick Loften-Harris hit a floater in the lane from the left side with 15 seconds remaining. Sophomore guard Angel Gonzalez finished with 21 points for the Red Hawks (6-7, 3-4 NJAC), who rallied back from an 11-point deficit in the second half for its first win over the Ospreys since a 61-60 win in the opening round of the NJAC Tournament on February 19, 2011. Senior forward Nnamdi Usuwa posted game-highs of 24 points and 14 rebounds for Richard Stockton, which had its six-game winning streak snapped as it fell to 11-2 overall, 5-2 in the NJAC. Richard Stockton’s two losses have been by a combined three points and both occurred in the final 15 seconds. William Paterson, which owns a win over Richard Stockton, is in first place in the conference with a 6-1 record and it has won six straight games.

Forecast calls for Snow

No that type of wintery stuff that has made too many appearances already. Rutgers-Newark junior guard John Snow had a great week in helping the Scarlet Raptors win all three games last week. Snow scored 26 points against Rutgers-Camden, 13 against Ramapo and 22 against the College of New Jersey to help R-N improve its conference record to 5-2. Averaging a team-best 17.3 points per game, Snow has scored 20 or more points seven times this season. He scored a season best 27 points against Montclair State. After going a combined 4-for-19 in consecutive games against Neumann and Richard Stockton, Snow’s shooting touch has returned. He made 20-of-38 shots (52.6 percent) in the Scarlet Raptors’ three wins last week.

Messiah men still rolling

Messiah College used a 15-0 run in the second-half to pull ahead of Alvernia University on Saturday and win 89-78. Brad Bolen led the Falcons with a game-high 23 points, hitting 11-12 from the free-throw line as Messiah went 26-32 from the charity stripe overall. The win moved the Falcons to 12-0 overall including 6-0 in the Commonwealth Conference. Yours truly will be courtside at Stevenson on Wednesday night when Messiah tries to remain unbeaten in a Commonwealth Conference showdown against the 10-3 Mustangs. It should be a fun game and great environment. In the words of former New York Jet linebacker, I “can’t wait” for the game.

DeSales’ dynamic duo

DeSales senior guards Alexiah Grant (17.6) and Sondrine Glovas (17.5) are one of the most prolific scoring duos in the country averaging a combined 35.1 points per game for the 11-2 Bulldogs. DeSales’ losses were to FDU-Florham (ranked No. 11 this week) and Moravian (receiving votes in last poll). DeSales coach Fred Richter won his 450th career game on Jan. 3 when the Bulldogs made ten 3-pointers in a 77-65 win over Ursinus. In the win over the Bears, Grant and Glovas were at their scoring best combining for 46 points. They also combined for 51 points in an earlier win over Gwynedd-Mercy. Both players have scored 20 or more points five times this season. Overall, DeSales has won seven straight games.

Atlantic Rim-Rockers

Sage has won three straight games, including its first two Skyline Conference contests against Bard (65-49) and St. Joseph’s, Long Island (63-43) behind Sara Tironi, who led the Gators in scoring in both games….Megan Bowman (10.7 points per game) and Carlee Hirt (10.1 ppg., 7.4 rebounds per game) have been the leaders for Sage this season…SUNY-Old Westbury’s DeAndra Scott led the way with a season-high 32 points to go along with 12 rebounds, four blocks (career-high) and two steals in recording her 10th double-double of the season during an 83-71 win over Mount St. Vincent...The top two women’s teams in the NJAC meet Wednesday night when TCNJ travels to Montclair State… Staten Island won its ninth straight game by beating Medgar Evers, 113-79. The 113 points are the most since CSI scored 117 in a win over American University in 1991. It’s also the second time during this win streak that the Dolphins have hit triple figures. They scored 109 against Ramapo on Dec. 12…Farmingdale State’s Jonathan Annan has averaged 14 points per game during the Rams’ current four-game winning streak. ... York (Pa.) senior guard Kelsey Murphy became the Spartans' all-time leader in three-pointers made. In its win over Marymount, York didn’t record its first rebound (of any kind), an offensive team rebound, until there was 2:05 remaining in the first half. York overcame an eight-point deficit in the final five minutes to rally to beat Salisbury, 77-72, and improve its record to 13-0 overall…

Mid-Atlantic Crossovers

Johns Hopkins scored 42 points in the second half against Haverford; its third largest total in any half this season…. Widener’s Brianna Wylie notched her second double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) of the season as the Pride beat Lycoming, 55-53 for their third straight victory. Overall, Widener has won six of its last seven games to improve its record to 9-4… Entering last week, the DeSales men were sixth in the country in free throws made and 15th in free throw percentage. The Bulldogs have made more free throws (275) than their opponents have attempted (228).

Help me

This column will only be as good as your submissions and assistance during the year. Feel free to send any noteworthy items, potential feature ideas, upcoming milestones, point out mistakes, say hello, etc. to me at rob.knox@d3sports.com. Don’t worry about overwhelming my inbox. As a former SID, the more in-box traffic, the better. Also, follow me on Twitter at @knoxrob1.

Ryan Scott

Ryan Scott is a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College and is immensely happy this is no longer a laugh line among the D-III basketball community.
2013-14 columnist: Rob Knox
2012-13 columnist: Pete Barrett
2011-12 columnist: Brian Lester