The men’s basketball team (4-8, 0-0 Ivy) saw many changes as it finished Winter Break with a 2-4 record Monday night. The team opens Ivy League play tomorrow as it takes on Columbia (2-11, 0-0 Ivy) at Newman Arena.
Of the games over break, head coach Steve Donahue said, “I think we came a long way in terms of getting to know each other better. It’s a time when you don’t have to worry about academics and you can do more together as a team, you practice more, your concentration is more focused on basketball.
“I think we have made great strides, and I think our play has proven that. Obviously we are still inconsistent at times, but I think we have come a long way since early December.”
Big Men Return
Over the break the team saw some changes to its roster, most notably the return of sophomores Chris Vandenburg and Gabe Stephenson who have been out with injuries.
“Obviously we need size,” said Donahue of the return of the two inside players. “Our Achilles heel is that we defend fairly well, but we give up a lot of easy shots inside and we get out rebounded inside. The more Gabe and the more Chris are able to play as they get healthier and more conditioned, the better defense we will be able to play.”
Donahue does not necessarily feel that the return of Vandenburg and Stephenson will affect the team’s offense, citing strong perimeter shooting and inside play from sophomore Eric Taylor, but he is excited about his improved defense.
Currently Stephenson is just about 100 percent and should see his time increase as he gets in better condition and gets used to playing again. Vandenburg is getting healthier and should continue to improve every day, but his recovery from such a severe injury is a much slower process.
Along with the return of the two sophomores, the team also added senior Brandon Barton to the roster after Donahue saw him practicing with the J.V. squad. Barton, a 6-5 forward, saw his first minute in the teams 73-59 loss to LaSalle.
Not only did the team see the return of players but also many changes to the lineup. The head coach attributes these changes to the return of the two sophomore forwards, as well as to different members of the team playing well in practice and in games.
One such change was moving junior Ka’Ron Barnes to the point guard position. When forced to take control of the ball, a position that he was tentative to take early on in the season, Barnes has shined. At Army, a 69-50 win for the Red and Barnes’ first start, he had nine points, four assists, and three steals. A game later at Lafayette, he set a school record with 13 assists.
Moving Barnes to the point and playing Stephenson down low has allowed Donahue to move the standout freshman Lenny Collins out from under the boards to the shooting guard slot. Collins, who has twice earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors, has seemed comfortable outside, while averaging 9.8 points in five starts.
Of Collins Donahue said, “He is a perimeter player for us and is someone that can handle the ball. As he progresses, I see him as a natural two with good size. He can pass the ball, he shoots the ball, and he knows how to play. Out of all of our guys that we have ever had in our program, no guy has ever been more prepared for college than Lenny and that’s why I think you see him having success early in his college career.”
The team will need both Barnes and Collins, along with sophomores Eric Taylor and Cody Toppert to all come together and find a rhythm this weekend as it starts league play.
Columbia should pose good competition for the Red as its roster is also young, featuring 11 underclassmen.
“Columbia is always an interesting rivalry because we play them back to back in league play,” Donahue said. “It is a high intensity game because we both realize how important this game means to get off to a good start in the league. In turn the games are physical. Columbia likes to slow the game down and really make it a war.”
The Lions are led by seniors Chris Wiedemann, an All-Ivy selection last year and forward Marco McCottry. McCottry is the only player on the roster to have started in all 13 games, shooting 37 percent from the field. At the guard position, freshman Dalen Cuff was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week Wednesday, scoring 11 points, grabbing four rebounds and handing out three assists in his first collegiate start.
To counteract the slow style of play Columbia is accustomed to, Donahue said, “At home, we need to play our game as much as possible and really compete. I think each of us knows each other very well and this is one team that we are more experienced than in the league, and we need to take advantage of that. We need to play aggressive, to be confident, know that it means a lot, go out have fun and play basketball like we can.”
Both being young teams, it will be a battle of the underclassman tomorrow night at 8 p.m. at Newman Arena.
Archived article by Kristen Haunss