The Buffalo Bills of the early 1990’s. The 1990’s Atlanta Braves (except for 1995). University of Michigan basketball in 1992 and 1993. And, worst of all, the 2007 Patriots.
All dynastic-type franchises and programs. None of them champions. It takes a certain level of talent to be the best team and win more games than anyone else throughout the course of a season. It takes something else, some undefinable, to be a champion.
As great as Trinity basketball has been over the course of the past two seasons – a 42-15 record (.737), 18-2 (.900) conference record, defenses rated near the top of the NESCAC and all of Division-III, an Elite Eight run a year ago and another NCAA trip this season – they have not been able to win a NESCAC title despite the Semis and Finals being played in Hartford. After once again clinching home court advantage through the NESCAC playoffs, the Semifinal exit for the Bantams was a disappointing one.
Let’s not forget, though, about the accomplishments that this team achieved. The Bantams graduated a few critical pieces, as most good teams do. Hart Gliedman ’15, a tenacious perimeter defender. George Papadeas ’15, a paint-clogging center at 6’8″. And a couple of important forwards in Steve Spirou ’15 and Alex Conaway ’15. The backcourt went through a further transition, as Andrew Hurd ’16 became the PG1 and Jaquann Starks ’16, an All-NESCAC player last year, had to morph himself into a traditional two-guard. There was a question of what kind of offensive production Trinity would get out of the post. Last year center Ed Ogundeko ’17 was the team’s third-leading scorer, but he shot an ugly 46.3 percent from the floor – not very good for a guy that doesn’t shoot from outside the paint. And lastly, there was the question of how the team would respond from a disappointing loss in the NESCAC Semis followed by a deep NCAA run.
All things considered, Trinity had a successful year, once again claiming the No. 1 seed by being the best team during the NESCAC regular season. There’s no doubt, though, that the Bantams will look back on this season and feel that there was some unfinished business.
Highlight Moment: 76-75 Win against Williams in the NESCAC Season Opener
The first game of the conference schedule always carries a lot of weight, but that is particularly true for a team like Trinity, trying to prove that it is not a fluke. The upstart Ephs had the advantage down the stretch, but it was the cool nerves of the experienced Bantams that made the difference. Trinity was down 70-68 with just moments to play, but then scored six points off of steals – two from Shay Ajayi ’16 and one from Starks – to stay in the fight. Finally, it was a contested, banked-in runner from Starks with six seconds left and followed by a steal from Starks himself that iced the game.
Team MVP: F Shay Ajayi
This is an easy one, as Ajayi not only gets our vote for Team MVP, but he already took home NESCAC POY honors. Ajayi’s game is so well-rounded that it’s hard to find a weakness. He is a menace defensively because of his length, and his ability to score inside, outside and attacking the rim is unmatched in the NESCAC. His stat line speaks for itself: 13.9 ppg on 48.3/32.1/78.0% shooting, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 spg and 1.0 bpg.
Biggest Surprise: The Loss of Hart Gliedman Didn’t Hurt Too Badly
People close to the program might read that and think I’m crazy. I don’t know how important Gliedman was as a leader and a presence off the floor, and believe me, as a former scrappy all-defense guard myself back in high school and today on the intramural circuit, I respect the man’s game. I only say this because American University transfer Langdon Neal ’17 became a vicious perimeter defender this season. Every time I watched Trinity, Neal was the player that caught my eye, constantly pressuring the ball handler and disrupting passing lanes. Need proof of his defensive capabilities? How about 1.0 steals per game in just 14.1 minutes per game. Ajayi lead the Bantams with 1.6 steals per game, but of course was also on the floor for almost 25 minutes per game. Neal comes in at 14th in the league in steals per game, and played by far the fewest minutes of anyone ranked that high. Tim Ahn ’19 (17.0 mpg) and Josh Britten ’16 (19.5 mpg) were the only guys above Neal that played less than 20 minutes per contest. I’d love to see what Neal does in an expanded role next season, and if he breaks into the starting five he could be a sneaky play for DPOY.
Most Interesting Stat: Shay Ajayi lead the Bantams with 24.9 mpg
That might not sound like a spectacular stat, but get this. Ajayi’s 24.9 mpg ranks 33rd in the NESCAC. Every other team besides Bates (one, Mike Boornazian ’16) and Conn College (two, Tyler Rowe ’19 and Zuri Pavlin ’17) had at least three players average more minutes than Ajayi. The entire Colby starting five averaged more minutes than Ajayi. Obviously, the advantage for the Bantams was that they were always fresh. It’s interesting though. What could Head Coach James Cosgrove be giving up by leaving Ajayi (or Starks, or Ogundeko, etc.) on the bench for 15 minutes and going to the eighth, ninth or 10th guy in the rotation? The Bantams’ core players were forced into more usage in the playoffs. Against Middlebury, Ajayi played 24 minutes, Starks 25, Ogundeko 26 and Hurd 29. Against Johnson & Wales, the totals were Ajayi 22, Starks 22, Hurd 27 and Ogundeko 31. Is it possible that they were worn down towards the end of the game, and that lead to those losses? We’ll never know for sure, and Cosgrove basically employed the same strategy last season, when the Bantams lost in the NESCAC Semis but did make it to the Elite Eight (Starks lead with 28.6 mpg, Ajayi was second with 25.2 mpg and no one else topped 22.1 mpg). It’s proven to be an effective strategy during the regular season, but perhaps it has contributed to a few disappointing postseason showings.