|The Wildcats didn't exactly fly high on the west coast in November, winning one of two, but Johnson & Wales used that trip to figure some things out and hasn't lost since.
Lewis & Clark athletics photo
It did not take long for the Johnson & Wales men’s basketball team to find its identity.
Following an opening day setback to Linfield at the Bon Appetit NWC Tipoff Classic, head coach Jamie Benton and his staff made the necessary corrections to help the Wildcats rebound with a 94-86 win over Lewis & Clark the following day.
“After the Linfield setback, we were able to make adjustments and find our identity as a team,” said Benton. “We got back to our style of basketball.”
In a game that featured seven ties and 11 lead changes, the Wildcats exhibited their ‘style of basketball’ to defeat the Pioneers. Senior Quarry Greenway highlighted the visitors’ performance by finishing the contest with 40 points and 12 rebounds, while converting 17 of 19 free throw attempts.
Since their initial victory, the Wildcats have won 12 consecutive contests, including six Great Northeast Athletic Conference games. This past Saturday, the Wildcats cruised to an 84-48 win against Norwich, which matched the program’s longest winning streak.
“I believe the trip out west to Oregon really helped our team come together as a unit, and strengthened our camaraderie and team chemistry,” said Benton.
In addition to coming together as a team, Benton has relied heavily on his seven seniors, which have guided the Wildcats to a current 72-27 record, three conference tournament appearances and one Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division III New England title.
“This is a veteran group that has been through a lot and understands what’s at stake,” Benton said. “Based off of us having a veteran group, our expectations were to compete for the conference championship, and from day one, I recall our practices being extremely competitive with everyone pushing each other to get better.”
Greenway and classmate Tom Garrick currently lead the unit in points with both players netting 250 points or more through 13 contests. They have both converted over 100 field goals, while combining for 127 free throws. Garrick leads all players from beyond the arc with 33 triples.
On defense, both players lead the unit in rebounds. Greenaway has registered 106 boards, including 45 offensive caroms, while Garrick has snagged 27 boards and sophomore Michael Kiser has pulled down 18 rebounds.
As a team, the Wildcats rank first overall in the GNAC in points per game (88.1), field goal percentage (49.1), free throws (225-of-318) and steals (13.7). Albertus Magnus, which isn’t too far behind in any of those categories, is atop the league in rebounds per game (44.6), including offensive caroms per each contest with 16.5.
Statistics aside, Benton and his staff are more concerned about playing solid defense, less about statistics or leading scorers.
“Defense is a major focus of our daily regimen as we understand it is what makes us go,” said Benton. “I (continuously) stress to the team that our defense is the key to controlling the tempo and pace of the game. We are at our best when our defense turns into our offense.”
The Wildcats’ defense has kept opposing offenses at bay this season, limiting their opposition to roughly 65 points. In their last three games, the defense has ignited the offense to tally 84 points or more – they registered 93 points against Saint Joseph’s (Maine).
In a one-point victory against the Mustangs of Mount Ida, the defense helped solidify the win by stopping a potential game-winning layup by Jayson Clark.
Said Benton on his team’s win over Mount Ida, “I reminded the team that on any given night anybody can be beaten, (and this particular victory) sharpened the team’s focus a bit more as we were able to get our first conference win on the road.”
With a focus on defense, while adhering to the old adage of ‘one day at a time, one game at a time,’ Benton has his Wildcats prepared for a successful second half of the season. The goal – like any team in late October and early November – is to win a conference crown and go deep into the NCAA Tournament.
“This team is on a hunt for their own conference championship with a business mindset,” said Benton. “We like to take our games one by one and focus on the immediate task at hand.
“Winning the conference is our goal, but we just want to continue to get better each and every day.”
Lasell keeps pace three minutes at a time
For the Lasell College men’s basketball, it is all about winning three-minute segments of each game.
Following three straight setbacks to start the season, head coach Aaron Galletta decided to rely on a past coaching tool to halt his team’s skid. And sure enough, it helped as the Lasers go onto capture eight of their next nine contests, including five consecutive GNAC tilts.
“We try to do (three minute segments) every year, but I think after the first three games I felt it was time to bring it back,” said Galletta. “I did not want the group to get discouraged, but instead keep the positive (mentality), while working on situations, especially after three straight setbacks.
“We have continued to use this strategy over break as well as situational basketball because it is so important for future success. Our league – the GNAC – is a battle every night and you can’t take a night off. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night and I think you have seen that over the first five or six games of league play.”
Galleta’s three-minute segments made an immediate impact on the Lasers during their initial win with seniors Richard O’Brien and Logan Liberty, and junior Armin Omanovic sinking important baskets during the final minutes. Lasell continued to use the strategy during back-to-back overtime wins against Rivier and Rhode Island College, as well as this past weekend against Anna Maria – a team they will see again on Wednesday for the second time this season.
While breaking up the game into bits and pieces have helped the Lasers be successful, so has the upperclassmen leadership of O’Brien, Liberty, Omanovic and Pat Marchand. All four players have contributed on both ends of the court, while sophomore Scott Arsenault has stepped up in his second season contributing 12.2 points per game and 3.3 rebounds every night.
With a difficult conference schedule remaining, including a second straight contest against Anna Maria, Galletta knows his team has a long way to go if they want to extend their campaign into late March. And just like any coach, he and his staff are keeping the players focused on their upcoming contest and next practice.
“The guys have come a long way from the beginning of the year, but we’re going to try to improve and get better today and then prepare ourselves for Wednesday’s game against Anna Maria,” said Galleta. “We don’t even know what our record is going into games because we just focus on going 1-0 today that’s all we say, and that’s how we approach things.”