Men’s Basketball eyes NWC title after historic beginning to ’15-16 campaign


Natalie Mutter

Christian McDonald 17′ with his game face on. Photo by Natalie Mutter.

Alden Glass

Christian McDonald 17' with his game face on. Photo by Natalie Mutter.
Christian McDonald 17′ with his game face on. Photo by Natalie Mutter.

During the final home game of the fall semester, the Sherwood Athletic Center echoed with chants of “undefeated” in the aftermath of yet another Whitman men’s basketball win. With an impressive 9-0 start to the 2015-16 season, the excitement and anticipation around this team was almost visible in the air around them.

During winter break, while the rest of campus was home relaxing, both basketball teams were here, still putting in long hours of work. And while the early excitement surrounding the undefeated start for the men has died down with three close losses in the past month, this team is still a Northwest Conference title contender.

First-year Cedric Jacobs-Jones discussed how these setbacks have been taken as learning opportunities by the team.

“A loss brings you down to reality and puts you where you’re at by showing you your faults. We need to take it one game at a time. Prepare for every game individually,” Jacobs-Jones said. “I think any team [in the conference] can give you a run, and every team gives you their best shot. I think we can be beaten by any team, and it’s up to us to bring our A-game each night.”

With perennial conference power house and rival Whitworth as the major competition for the NWC championship, the match up between these two squads in Spokane over the break served as an early marker of the power balance. Whitworth held on for a close win but senior and captain Evan Martin thinks the margin of victory was very slim.

“It was back and forth and neck and neck for most the time. We let their shooters get open a bit too much. It was hopeful but there are things we’ve needed to work on, that we’ve definitely worked on since,” Martin said. “The main thing is that we slipped up at points, and without those slip ups we probably would have won that game”.

As conference play intensifies, Whitman will need to dig deep and utilize their strengths to keep pace with Whitworth. One of these strengths is their ability to push the pace of the game to a tempo that has been unmatched thus far. Over their first 17 games, Whitman has averaged just over 93 points a game. Martin discussed how Whitman’s unique defensive style has helped them control the speed of games this season.

“We can switch from pressing [full court] to half-court defense at any time, which makes it hard for the other team to get a gauge on what we’re playing. It’s a great back up plan because we can always press you and cause turnovers,” Martin said. “Other teams play half court and try to slow the game down to 70 points and we try to run it the 100s. We’re just trying to speed everyone up”.

The rematch with Whitworth is coming up on Feb. 2 and sophomore Tim Howell doesn’t see losing as an option.

Tim Howell 18' demonstrating his handles. Photo by Natalie Mutter.
Tim Howell 18′ demonstrating his handles. Photo by Natalie Mutter.

“We shot well from the field and found their best players. If there’s anything we could do differently it’s probably just better team defense,” Howell said. “I’d play them the same way as the first game because I don’t see us losing with how we play here. Once we get them here it’ll be a good game and we can take them out”.

It is this confidence which drives the Missionaries forward toward their goals. Martin summed up the team’s work ethic and attitude on the court with one simple word.

“We’re just hustlers in every sense of the word. Everybody just goes hard in their own way,” Martin said. “Everybody does things that are out of the norm for a lot of people. Tim is a good example who can score in any type of way. We’re all very eclectic and unique in our playing styles as opposed to teams who are more unified in their type of play”.

The fact that Whitman is being discussed as a contender and has been ranked in the top 25 in most polls all season, even climbing as high as first in late December, marks an attitude shift in the team this season. Howell shared the team’s view on their goals for the season.

“Conference title is always the main goal. That’s the whole reason why we’re doing this, I mean we love the game but we’re trying to win as many games as possible and a title is what we’re in search of because obviously we don’t have one,” Howell said. “I mean look in our gym, there’s no banner. So we’re trying to hang one”.

With the team unity and confidence that the team exudes, don’t be surprised if they do.

Montez White 19' pulls up for a floater! Photo by Natalie Mutter.
Montez White 19′ pulls up for a floater! Photo by Natalie Mutter.