What a weekend for Maine rivals, Bowdoin and Colby, as the two swept Conn College and Wesleyan to both get into the NESCAC tournament with Bowdoin as the No. 7 seed and Colby the No. 8 seed. Both teams have shown plenty of promise this season, but it wasn’t until this weekend that we saw how good these teams can really play. When I watched these two go to overtime back on January 30, it was hard to imagine that both of them could possibly miss the NESCAC tournament. Now they both got in and are beginning to look dangerous.
Let’s start with Colby. The Mules looked dead at 1-6 in conference after blowing a last minute lead at Middlebury last weekend. Then they finished with three straight wins, with their two this weekend being comfortable ones. The all-senior starting five gets all the press, but senior guard John Gallego ’16 deserves some recognition himself. The quick backup is one of many short NESCAC point guards making an impact this season (Jaquann Starks ’16, Jack Dwyer ’18, Tyler Rowe ’19, etc.). He had nine points apiece against Wesleyan and Conn College. Against Amherst, Colby’s first NESCAC win, Gallego had 13 big points. The senior is a difference maker for the Mules.
The real surprise is probably the defense that Colby has played. I’ve said it before, but it doesn’t make sense that a team with five seniors starting should be so bad defensively. Yes, they play three big men essentially in their starting lineup meaning they give up quickness to teams. Still, they should be able to make up for it by playing as a unit on that end. This weekend they did, keeping Conn College to 73 points and then Wesleyan to just 64 points. The Mules certainly benefitted from some poor shooting on the part of the Cardinals considering Wesleyan shot 7-33 from three point land, but give credit to Colby for coming up big on the defensive end this weekend after having that be their Achilles Heel in some games.
As for Bowdoin, a team dear and near to my heart, they got big contributions from their role players while relying on their big two. Lucas Hausman ’16 and Jack Simonds ’19 combined averaged 48.5 ppg in the two wins. And while I know it sounds crazy, neither of them shot THAT well this weekend, going 8-25 (32 percent) from the three point line. What they did do exceptionally was get to the free throw line and finish there. The two went 27-30 from the charity stripe, and they drove Wesleyan and Conn College crazy with their ability to get calls.
However, the real stars, especially yesterday, were point guard Tim Ahn ’19 and center Matt Palecki ’16. Ahn looked like he was losing his spot in the rotation to Jack Bors ’19 a few weeks ago, but an injury to Bors has kept him out and opened the door for Ahn to play his best basketball. Coaches often say that by the end of the season, being a freshman isn’t an excuse anymore. Ahn hasn’t played like a freshmen down the stretch. He did something I haven’t see him do all season: attack and finish at the rim. He has shown the quickness to get past his initial defender, but until yesterday Ahn wasn’t looking for his at the rim. He scored 10 points in Friday and Saturday’s game.
Meanwhile, Palecki was his typical workmanlike self with 12 points and 14 rebounds against Conn College. In both games this weekend, Bowdoin controlled the boards, something they haven’t done much of this year. Palecki makes up for his lack of leaping ability by using his wide body to keep offensive rebounders out of the paint. He used that same wide body to slow down the likes of Joseph Kuo ’17 and Zuri Pavlin ’17 with great effectiveness. While Palecki can sometimes fall in love with ill-advised threes, he does a lot of the dirty work for the Polar Bears.
One problem for Colby and Bowdoin is they now have to go on the road in the NESCAC playoffs. For both of them, three of their four conference wins came at home. Whatever, we’ll get there in a couple of days. The two Maine teams made good and salvaged what looked like lost seasons. Even though they are the seventh and eighth seed, Bowdoin or Colby is capable not just of upsetting a top team but going all the way for a Cinderella run.
Shooting Guard Lucas Hausman ’16 (Bowdoin)
Averaging 26.5 ppg in a NESCAC weekend would be incredible for most players, but it’s just another normal weekend for Hausman at this point. He finishes the 2015-2016 regular season averaging 25.1 ppg overall and 26.0 ppg in NESCAC games. Those are historic numbers: the best averages that anybody has put up on record in the NESCAC which goes back to 2000. Hausman is far from a perfect player; he does go to a D3 school after all. His defense is subpar, his rebounding numbers are not good, and he doesn’t create well for others on offense. One or two plays every game he looks like a legitimately bad basketball player. But to deny how freaking good he is at putting the ball in the basket is stupid. Nobody makes tough shots like he does, and he makes those shots efficiently to boot. Regardless of what happens in the NESCAC tournament, Hausman is the Player of the Year.
Small Forward Stephen Haladyna ’16 (Tufts)
The Jumbos had just one game this weekend, and they took care of business against Williams to secure a home NESCAC playoff game. Haladyna led the way with 22 points, the only time this year that he has scored more than 20 points in a contest. He had been pretty quiet in NESCAC games before Friday. Tufts is at their best when they are able to be balanced scoring the ball. Guys like Haladyna and Ryan Spadaford ’16 need to be big part of the offense for Tufts to make a run. The Jumbos sit at 19-5 overall and look to be in good shape for making the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the next two weekends, but a win again over Williams would secure their spot for sure I think.
The Panthers weren’t quite up to the task this weekend, and the most disappointing thing has to be the number of points they let up. Amherst scored 83 and Trinity had a blistering 97 points. Now, the Bantams were clearly hot shooting the ball (55.7 percent from the floor in this game), but it is still a little disappointing to see Middlebury give up that many points in regulation. The two games weren’t even that exceptional in terms of pace as Amherst shot the ball 60 times and Trinity 61 times. The two losses aren’t surprising in and of themselves, but I wasn’t expecting their defense to be the major problem. The Panthers have to get that sorted out by this weekend.
What a tough end to the season for the Camels. They made so many strides this season, but they end up falling just short of making the playoffs. The Camels pushed Tufts and Amherst to the brink and had a quality home win over Middlebury, but they ended up losing their final five NESCAC games to finish 3-7. The Camels are big, tough on defense, and capable of scoring in bunches. They lose senior leader Bo McKinley ’16, a player that has been a constant through some very dark days for the program. Credit to him for doing anything he could to make the team better over the past few years. This team will be a terror for teams next year in large part because of him. And they will be a terror with their young nucleus having another year to grow. Zuri Pavlin ’17 and Dan Janel ’17 are a load to handle in the frontcourt. Tyler Rowe ’19 and Lee Messier ’18 are going to score a lot of points, too. Conn College missed the playoffs this year, but they will get there soon enough.