By Peter McClelland
(Wenham) – What a season! And it’s not even over yet!
The Gordon College men’s basketball team finished off the regular season with an all-time best 22-3 record. Along the way they have won an amazing 17 games in a row going back to the beginning of January.
This season they have defeated every team in the Commonwealth Coast Conference at least once. They have not lost a game at the Bennett Center. I know this is starting to sound like a version of, “Ask me about my grandchildren!”
Gordon got to all these lofty things Saturday afternoon at the Bennett Center by defeating Curry, 67-60. This game went from laugher early to squirmer late but the early build-up was enough to get the job done.
“Despite what it looked like the game never really got out of control,” said Gordon Coach Mike Schauer afterwards. “Even when the lead got down to five points in the last minute it was still a two-possession game and we had the ball.”
It was fitting that on Senior Day John Beebe (6’1” senior – Clive IA) would be at the foul line clicking on four straight shots to ice this one for the Scots. Other seniors honored this afternoon were Pete Hassler and Aaron Vogelzang.
This was not a, 67-60, game. You’re thinking close game but it really wasn’t. I’ll admit I expected it would be tight because Curry has great individual stars and they had just beaten Endicott at Endicott on Tuesday. The adjective that came to mind to describe the way this visiting giant played was, “sleeping.”
Gordon raced off to an 8 zip lead thanks to a couple of 3’s by Mike Herr (6’5” junior – Lampeter PA). Not long after that the Scots rode a Mark Beebe (6’4” sophomore – Clive IA) three and lay-ups by Justin Kaufman (5’11” sophomore – Redding CT) and Jon Marstaller (6’5” sophomore – Naples ME) at the end of great passes for a 7-point run to go ahead, 20-8, with 10:45 left.
Could things get worse for the visitors? To the surprise of many they did. The last 11 points scored in the first half were by Gordon and they led, 33-14.
Curry Coach Malcolm Wynn was very impressed with Gordon. “They are a very good team and we knew that coming in. They play well together. In fact, they play defense the way it is supposed to be played. You can’t pick out any one of their defenders as being exceptional because they operate as a team doing it.”
Those nice words after the game weren’t what his team heard at halftime. “I had to resort to some old-time coaching after that first half,” explained Coach Wynn. “I told them that if they didn’t want to walk back to Curry they’d better do a much better job in the second half and I was serious.” He laughed when he said it but I could imagine more than a few of the Colonels buying into it mindful of the chill factor outdoors.
Some of the Curry players may have been wondering about that walk back to Curry early in the second half as it took them a while to find their game. The Scots were able to match the Curry scoring early in the half and then some. A backdoor cut led Aaron Vogelzang (6’4” senior – Jericho VT) to a lay-up and Gordon had what turned out to be its biggest lead of the game, 49-27, with 12: 45 left.
The rest of the way the Curry that everyone was afraid of showed up. You do the math and Gordon was outscored, 33-18, for the last part of this one. Fortunately, for the Scots the clock and the sizable lead were their allies and this game ended up in the win column.
“When we built up that large lead I think it made them sort of mad,” said Coach Schauer. “They’re enormously talented and I knew that we were in for a tough second half.”
No question that the Curry intensity picked up especially on defense. The Colonels turned the Scots over a very unlikely 11 times in the second half as too often Gordon found out the hard way that dribbling around in the interior is a good way to lose the ball.
The Curry defense may have been disruptive in the second half but this season the Scots have made shots at crucial times. In this one Justin Kaufman twice boosted the Gordon lead to 15 points with 3’s including a second one with 4 ½ minutes left to make the score, 60-45. The Colonels followed with a 9-point run on six free throws from Marcus Jones (5’9” junior) and a 3 from James Bartelle (6’2” junior). The Gordon answer this time was a Mike Herr jam in the last minute to stop Curry’s momentum.
Coach Schauer reminded me, and I’m assuming a few readers as well, that this was a very important win for Gordon for a reason few are aware of. “A lot of people don’t know that we’re still eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The regional rankings come out on Tuesday. If we had lost today it might have dropped us too low in the rankings to be at-large eligible. Winning keeps us 3rd or 4th in the region.” There is business to be attended to first, however.
The Scots will start the CCC playoffs at home against the Nichols Bison at 7PM. Nichols may be the 4th seed in the CCC South but they gave Gordon all they could handle before losing, 66-63, a week ago in Dudley (MA). Many of their key players are underclassmen that might be impacted by a vocal Bennett Center crowd if such a group appears on Tuesday night.
Curry faces Endicott over at our neighbor’s place. On Tuesday the Colonels visited the same place and came out with a one-point overtime win. Things could get nasty over there.
Any team that faces Curry has nightmares trying to decide what to do about Raheim Lamb (6’6” senior). This guy carries a 20-point average and does it with a 62% shooting percentage. When Raheim “only” scored 19 in this game and I suggested to Coach Schauer that the team had done a pretty good job on him he laughed. “There’s no way to deal with Raheim Lamb. Your only hope against him is that he gets a diploma and leaves!”
There is talk that he might be continuing his basketball career next year by playing professionally overseas. Raheim was on the roster of Division 1 UMass a couple of years ago and decided to transfer to Curry. What an addition!
I thought that Mike Herr had one of his best games ever and I’ve seen three years of them. In a game where the inside was treacherous because of the Curry size and shot-blocking skills Mike displayed an outside touch. When pressed outside he was able to slash to the basket for a couple of crowd-pleasing jams.
“Mike (Herr) had great energy this afternoon,” said Coach Schauer. “We haven’t been helping him get shots as we did in the past. We are a better team this year and now let the offense come to whoever gets it. That has hurt him statistically but he is still an awfully good player.”
It wasn’t hard for me to remember how explosive Curry can be. Last year they beat Gordon like the proverbial drum, 96-79 with Raheim making 12 of 13 and James Bartelle hitting seven 3’s. Two years ago the Scots cruised to a, 45-19, halftime lead at the Bennett Center and then saw Curry close that gap considerably and only lose, 66-56………………….I’m guessing it’s a complement. Coach Wynn was telling me about the other places they’ve played this season and he said, “The fans here are so courteous. They’re really supportive of their team and I appreciate that. Some places are very hostile.”……………………………Coach Wynn is the only coach I know who will engage fans in conversation while the game is going on!……………………I saw CCC coaches on hand from Endicott, Roger Williams, and Wentworth. Wentworth needed Salve Regina to beat New England College to get into the tournament and it happened for them…………………The music – it’s too LOUD – drove one parent to sit on the other side of the gym in the hope of escaping it. Trust me, the only thing that would make that music better is distance!…………………Emily, well, you know what I think about her rendition of the National Anthem……………………………Being the top seed in the CCC gives Gordon the home court in any playoff game they are in. I mentioned to Coach Schauer that it would be nice not to have to take any more bus rides. He said, “I’m not sure.” I keep forgetting about the NCAA possibilities that Gordon has…………………….Jerry Logan (6’ junior – Marietta GA) did a super defensive job on James Bartelle. Keeping the ball out of his hands hurt the Curry offense a lot………………..Coach Schauer had 6’5” Jon Marstaller defending 5’9” Marcus Jones when Curry needed 3-point shots to catch up………………If Gordon plays Curry or Endicott again it will be next Saturday at the Bennett Center for the championship……………………..Coach Wynn: “Gordon met the challenge at all the places they went. They are more than worthy to be the representatives of our conference. Now having said that, we’re going to do everything in our power to prevent it from happening.”………………………..Neither team scored in the last 3:44 of the first half……………………..I wasn’t too crazy about Justin’s seven turnovers or the fact that he was limping near the end of the game……………………Who would have thought that Gordon could out-rebound a team of Curry’s size? But they did, 31-28. How about shoot 50% against them? But they did………………………….Gordon has gone out of the CCC playoffs in the first round on the road the last three seasons. I’m thinking that playing playoff games at home might make a difference. That student body 6th man better be on hand, though, in case things get tight.