Matt McMullen — a winning mindset no matter the record

Matt McMullen. Photo Credit: Colgate Athletics
Matt McMullen. Photo Credit: Colgate Athletics

In his first three years at Colgate, Matt McMullen never experienced a winning season. Frankly, he lost, a lot – 61 games in all over that period, against just 32 wins, while going 13-33 in Patriot League games.

But that only made the 6-foot-6-inch 220-pound forward hungrier to win. Now, McMullen is seeing that hunger pay off, as the second place Raiders are looking to make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
“I think the three seasons we had where we weren’t particularly a good team, they all contribute to this year,” says McMullen, a native of nearby Brick, New Jersey, of Colgate’s 10-6 record in conference play.

“I don’t know if we’d be in the position we are now to compete for a championship if we hadn’t had those struggles over the first three years, especially considering that a lot of the guys on our team that play are seniors and we all went through that together. I think that it’s definitely helpful.”

When McMullen first arrived at Colgate, he says there was a completely different ambiance in the locker-room. At the time, Colgate was in the middle of a serious transition, with current head coach Matt Langell replacing outgoing head coach Emmett Davis, the coach who had recuited McMullen and landed his commitment.

“I had about 10 or 12 offers coming out of high school and my mindset was to go to the place that could give me the best education with a full ride. So obviously, the Patriot League is appealing for that reason,” he says.

When Davis was handed his walking papers, McMullen could have opened back up his recruiting, as has become par for the course in an era where players often commit to play for a coach and not the university, but he opted to stay the course.

“I didn’t commit to Coach [Matt] Langel’s staff, I committed to the former staff with Emmett Davis, but when Coach Langel took over, he called me and said he’d still love to have me. It felt right to me and sounded like a good fit and I’m glad I came here,” says McMullen.

During McMullen’s first three seasons, Colgate finished 8-22, 11-21, and 13-19 respectively. But McMullen says his commitment to the program never waivered.

“My mindset is just: you got to keep moving forward. We’ve had a staff change and complete overhaul of the program and Coach Langel did a great at making sure that I stayed focused and constantly telling me that I’m part of what’s going to end up changing here soon.”

As a drastically undersized the dirty-work forward for the Raiders, McMullen has never been a star, or spent much teal in the limelight, but has played a vital role bringing toughness and intangibles.

“I take a lot of pride in my versatility. I try not to be a one-dimensional player,” says McMullen, who is currently averaging 31.9 minutes, 8.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. “Also, I just try to play harder than anyone else on the court at all times. I think those are the two things that, throughout my entire career, have really been sort of my trademarks.

“This year, I would say my role is just really a glue guy. I just try to figure out the identity of the game as we go and figure out how I’m going to get us the win, whether it’s getting rebounds, scoring points, playing defense. I feel like I can contribute to the team in a lot of ways. I just try to read the flow of the game and find a way to get it done,” said McMullen.

Being a senior who has experienced turbulence with changing parts around him, McMullen has found himself embracing his position to lead underclassmen who will be in a similar position as him in a few years.

“There’s definitely more of a leadership role this year. I tried to be a leader for the past few years but it’s not always as easy, especially when you’re a younger guy and you’re not really playing as much,” says McMullen.

During the non-conference slate, McMullen spends most of his time guarding opposing forwards who are literally taller than him by a head, but he’s never looked at his stature as being an obstacle on the court.

“Particularly in our out-of-conference schedule, it’s a lot more difficult just because I am so much more undersized, but in the Patriot League, most of the players I’m going head-to-head against are around my size.

“We have a lot of guys in the league who are 6’6” forwards who are swingmen, so it’s kind of a change of pace from what I’m normally used to, where I have that speed advantage and able to use my undersize abilities to my advantage,” said McMullen.

To combat his size disadvantage, McMullen has focused on improved his game on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball each season.

“I’d say shooting is something that I’ve become much better at. When I got here I think I was an OK shooter, but by no means the type of shooter that I am now.

“Also, defensively I think I’m much improved, just in terms of, not even on the ball like head-to-head defending, but more off the ball, understanding defensive concepts and the importance of communicating,” says McMullen.

The year has certainly been a roller coaster ride for McMullen and the Raiders, who started off 3-10 on the season and stand at just and stand at just 13-16 overall, but turned on the jets in Patriot League play, running out to a 10-6 conference record.

“I think we’ve played well. Like I said, we were still going through that process of figuring out how to win early in the season. I think our 3-10 out-of-conference record is indicative of that, but in terms of what we’ve been able to do in the league, I feel like every lost, we’ve learned something from. We’ve improved on that loss and come back better.

“We’ve had some heartbreaking losses; we still are having heart breaking losses. We just blew a 10-point lead in under a minute to Navy like a week ago. So, all of this, in my opinion, is part of the process and still contributing to what we’re hopefully going to be able to accomplish in the next two or three weeks,” says McMullen.

Those ‘heartbreaking losses’ include a triple-overtime loss to Loyola University Maryland on Feb. 22. where McMullen erupted for career highs in points (19) and rebounds (17).

Peaking at just the right time, McMullen has a clear vision of the future for himself and the team.
“I think our only goal is to win a Patriot League championship. Do something that hasn’t been done at this school for twenty years. That’s really what we’re focused on,” he says.

And according to McMullen, three straight years of losing have given the Raiders the tools – and motivation – to win when it matters most.

“I think it starts with finishing out the regular season conference strong so we can put ourselves in a good position for home court advantage in the playoffs. Even if we do have to go on the road, we’ve won on the road at the places we’re probably going to have to go,” says McMullen.

McMullen’s sights are squarely set on the winner-take-all Patriot League Tournament, which starts on March 3, and the NCAA Tournament. But when his college career comes to an end, he has a few different ideas about the next chapter of his life.

“I think maybe there could be basketball in my future, but I don’t know if I could do it. I have a lot of mileage on my body. I’m not particularly healthy. I got a lot of knee issues and all sorts of nagging injuries.

“I’m actually going to try to be an actor, believe it or not,” says McMullen.
But before he hits the Hollywood stage, McMullen is dreaming of stepping out under the bright lights of March Madness.

“We feel good about what we’re doing and we’re excited for it. For seniors, it’s our last go around that we’re going to have this really great opportunity,” says McMullen.

Matt Langel — the eye of the coaching storm

Matt Langel. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Matt Langel. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

On Wednesday evening in storm-battered Boston, Colgate men’s basketball head coach Matt Langel was the eye of the proverbial storm. Outside the Agganis Arena, the city remained at a standstill after the latest of a serious of blizzards and Nor’easters.

Inside, the energy emanating from the benches of Langel’s visiting Raiders and their hosts, the Boston University Terriers, was frenzied, with seemingly every player and coach jumping up and down, shouting, and contorting their bodies with every foul and every bucket in a back and fourth game.

Everyone except Langel.

While Colgate assistant Mike Jordan and athletic trainer Leslie Cowen were shaking the floor from the Raiders bench, and Boston University head coach Joe Jones was halway out onto the court emploring his team to make a stop, Langel was methodically walking up and down the sidelines, calming watching his players en route to a 76-69 win to stay in a two-way tie with Bucknell atop the Patriot League.

Set against the backdrop of the flamboyant antics employed by bombastic coaches in today’s game, Langel stands out as a bastion of cool, collected calm on game days – making a scene on the sidelines simply is not who he is.

“I believe the game is about the players,” says Langel. “I think if you watch a lot of coaches out there, I try and take after younger coaches, Brad Stevens, who obviously is a very young coach and somebody that I say man that guys has a great even keel about him. His players play really hard; when he was at Butler, they played for each other, they played together and he never makes it about himself, there’s not antics, no sideline show, that’s how I feel the game should be coached, it should be about the players.”

While Langel admired Stevens from a far, his true inspiration comes from his mentor, former coach and colleague Fran Dunphy. Langel spent his playing days (1996-2000) with Dunphy at the University of Pennsylvania and then returned in 2004 as an assistant. Two years later when Dunphy left and went down the road to Temple University, Langel was right by his side, remaining there until he left to run his own program in Hamilton, New York in 2011.

“I think I pick my moments,” says Langel. “We’re a veteran team, I think they understand me; they’ve been with me for a while. I’m sure they’ll tell you there were plenty of times where I’ve let them know what they’ve done wrong and what they need to do better. I think I learned that from Fran Dunphy who I was fortunate enough to play for and then work for. And that is you have to be who you are and you can’t try and be something that you’re not, because it’s not genuine and again young people read through that really quickly.”

Langel’s time, especially as a player at Penn, not only help him with his person on and off the court, but it has helped him learn to use personal experiences to get the most out of his players.

“My staff and I know what’s required to be a student-athlete at the highest level, not meaning that we played or studied at the highest level individually, but to balance that rigor of competing like crazy but also going to a really prestigious academic institution where it’s hard work,” says Langel. “I hope those experiences that we had help us keep perspective of what our guys go through and help them figure out the best way to keep those balanced.”

Langel points to the winning attitude that permeated through the Penn program as one he is trying to cultivate at Colgate. During the 1998-99 season, Langel and his teammates punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament, something Colgate hasn’t done in nearly 19 years.

“I was fortunate to be a part of a program as a student-athlete when I was their age and then as an assistant coach at Penn and at Temple where there was great history, tradition, there were great expectations, and a winning culture in place and that was carried down from generation to generation,” says Langel. “Specific to here over the last four years, that was something we’ve been trying to create, cultivate, grow and that’s hard.”

Hard may be an understatement.

Entering the season, Langel’s record as a head coach was 32-61 in three seasons, with the Raiders racking up losing records in all three seasons – something Langel had only experienced once as a player and coach at both Penn and Temple.

During non-conference play this season, Colgate lost seven of its first eight games and went just 2-10 against Division I opponents. But there were signs of growth admit the losses, as eight of the Raiders 10 losses came by single-digits, with the only two blowouts coming at the hands of powers Syracuse and Ohio State.

“Sometimes it takes without winning some games, losing close games, it’s hard to help young people figure that out,” says Langel. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

But Langel’s team was able to seemingly flip a switch and turn the corner when Patriot League play began on New Year’s Eve, racing out to a 9-4 record in conference play, including a regular season sweep over a Bucknell squad that remains tied with them in the conference standings.

“I credit this group, the veterans specifically for not giving up, not saying oh man it’s too hard, they continued to work and work together to try and find solutions and what more they could do to push it that little bit extra,” says Langel.

Langel feels that his group of seven seniors were the main reason behind such an impressive turnaround, as they have embraced the sense of urgency that comes with their final season of college ball.

“I talked to the older guys and some of the captains often and said it’s not anybody else’s team, it’s your team, and if you want this thing to go better, you’ve got to give more and you’ve got to figure out a way to help a little bit more,” he says. “And they did. They listened, and I think that’s a hard thing for young people to do sometimes and say well I feel like I’m doing everything I can it’s not my fault, it’s somebody else’s fault, but they really have taken ownership of it and its worked out to this point.”

According to Langel, building the current team began the moment he stepped foot on campus in 2011 and began recruiting his inaugural class, first with forward Matt McMullen, whose AAU team Langel knew well. Late in the recruitment process, Langel brought in Luke Roh and then along the way landed transfers like Damon Sherman-Newsome and Ethan Jacobs.

“Those guys, there’s been bits and pieces that have been added along the way like transfers and some of the younger guys,” says Langel. “Those pieces have continued to grow together, I wouldn’t say there’s been one time when the group came together, it’s been a process.”

Through the process, the Colgate basketball program suffered through some tough seasons and hasn’t had much to show for it on paper, but Langel credits those struggles with sewing the seeds of success the Raiders are now experiencing.

“We stuck together and that started to build that winning culture that all good teams need.”

Ethan Jacobs’ long (skateboard) ride to the top

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There is a common thread that permeates the Colgate University’s men’s basketball roster: perseverance — players that never gave up, even after losing seven out of their first eight and 10 of their first 13 games of the season, is why the Raiders can be found atop the Patriot League standings heading into the February home stretch.

That perseverance is a characteristic embodied by senior center Ethan Jacobs, who, despite struggles throughout much of his early career, has emerged as one of the league’s best centers and an irreplaceable part of Colgate’s roster.

Born in tiny Mora, Minn., and raised in an agricultural community in Tipton, Indiana, Jacobs’ journey to Colgate, featuring a layover at Ohio University, was a long and winding road, one that he traveled with a basketball under his arm and a skateboard under his sneakers.

“I was a kid that always skateboarded,” said Jacobs of his childhood in Tipton, a tiny city of about 5,000 residents that sits roughly 36 miles from Indianapolis. Only two an a half square miles in size, life in Tipton is slow, other than the three-day Pork Festival held Thursday through Saturday proceeding every labor day.

Growing up, Jacobs didn’t have any interest in hoops, preferring to spend his time riding around town as opposed to cramped inside a stuffy, sweaty gym. But after a growth spurt pushed him to 6’1” in the sixth grade, he decided to try out for his middle school team.

He was cut.

But the setback ignited a fire in him to get to work on the game, and in the seventh grade he made the team and, according to Jacobs, played pretty well. But then he hit a speed bump, literally, breaking his wrist after a hard fall on his skateboard, and missed almost his entire eighth grade season. But after another growth spurt pushed him past 6-foot-7 as a high school freshman, Jacobs picked himself back up and went back to work on his game. It was at that time that he met a mentor who would be the catalyst for Jacobs’ basketball future.

“Freshman year I was introduced to a guy, Jay Rich, that really showed me what my potential could be and opened the door to basketball and has been my mentor since then through the basketball process.”

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Rich’s first order of business: utilizing Jacobs’ big frame and working on his post game and turning him into a threat close to the basket.

Fast-forward another three years and Jacobs had become a beast on the low blocks who could also get out and run the floor despite his size. After two sectional championships, including a 23-3 mark as a senior, all-league and all-area honors and being selected for the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Role Model Award as a senior in 2010, and an ESPN.com scout grade of 86, Jacobs accepted a scholarship to play for Ohio University.

“I think when I was recruited to Ohio, running the floor and being able to space the floor were probably the two best things they saw in me,” said Jacobs.

But upon arrival, Jacobs found himself starting over from square one, buried on the depth chart behind upper classmen. Despite playing just 22 games over his first two seasons of college ball, Jacobs enjoyed his time at Ohio, crediting it as a valuable learning experience and key component of his development.

“My experience at Ohio was very much a learning process,” said Jacobs. “As a freshman, first year in college, you just try and be a sponge and soak up everything you can basketball wise, and academically. We had a great coaching staff, a big group of guys with a lot of talent. Those first two years were very challenging because I had guys in front of me that have been there and learned the stuff and coming you’re behind so you have to catch up and learn everything.”

During his sophomore year, Jacobs enjoyed something that most players can only dream of: A prolonged moment in the NCAA Tournament spotlight as a Cinderella of the 2012 tournament, as 13th seeded Ohio shocked fourth-seed Michigan in the opening round and downed 12 seed University of South Florida to punch through to the Sweet 16. The Bobcats fell in overtime to Fourth-ranked North Carolina. Now three years after the clock struck Midnight on Ohio, Jacobs still savors the experience.

“it was amazing, something that will definitely be with me for the rest of my life.”

After Ohio’s run through March Madness, head coach John Groce and his staff left for national power Illinois, leaving Jacobs to figure out his next step. With a new coaching staff coming in, Jacobs explored his transfer options, but found few Division I teams biting on a raw center who had spent his career on the end of the bench. He did, however, have a nibble from Colgate head coach Matt Langel, who saw untapped potential.

“He came out here on a visit and one thing led to the next and we really felt that his skill ability to shoot the ball and his size would be something that would be able to help us,” said Langel of Jacobs, who up until that point had never made a single 3-pointer in a college game and had just 10 college points to his name.

”With an extra year off to adjust to the academic rigors of Colgate but also the style of basketball and work with our assistant coaches so he can help our team, and he has really done that,” said Langel.

Jacobs spent his first year at Colgate as a spectator, sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules while watching Colgate struggle to a 11-21 record while going 5-9 in league play. But he used that time to completely take apart and rebuild his game.

“For me I just tried to do everything I could to improve, whether it was watching film, being in the gym, skill sessions, 1-on-1 with a coach or other things by myself,” said Jacobs. “But sitting away from it, is different because at Ohio you have the opportunity to play but as a red-shirt you don’t, so it’s a different mentality. But definitely I was able to see those guys improve and want to put the work, which is most important.”

As a red-shirt junior last season, playing the first meaningful basketball of his career, Jacobs made a big impact, averaging 11.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 22.7 minutes per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 41.5 percent from behind the arc.

“In college basketball if you can have a big who can score, it really puts pressure on the defense,” said Langel. “And Ethan can do that, he can score with his back to the basket, and he doesn’t have just one move, he’s pretty skilled, he can go both ways, he can shoot from in the post and then it creates some difficulties as to whether you’re gonna help in and leave some of our other shooters open.”

With his burly 240-pound frame and ability to both deliver a brain-rattling screen and knock down a jump shot, Jacobs has excelled at the pick-and-pop.

“In my opinion, the pick and pop is one of the hardest actions to guard defensively for a big man not usually guarding a guy that can shoot,” said Jacobs. Later adding, “If the guards have an advantage then I’ll space out and let them attack and the help may not be there and Austin and my other teammates are great at finding me when that happens defensively, that breakdown.”

Those mismatches and breakdowns have led to Jacobs becoming one of the biggest producers on this year’s Colgate team, averaging 12 points per game, while opening up the floor for fellow senior and Raiders leading scorer Damon Sherman-Newsome. Jacobs also leads the team in rebounds with 4.6 per game.

Jacobs’ physical size and abilities have made him an integral part to Colgate’s game plan, but his growth into a vocal leader has made an equally large impact on a program trying to make their way back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.

“I talk about it whenever I can, whenever the conversation is around to just try to explain how great of a feeling it is of accomplishment, togetherness,” said Jacobs. “You put all this work in as a team, you’re together every day, in the weight room, watching film, whatever it may be and to see that all come together and win a championship together is something really special so I try and tell them stories or feelings or whatever I can about that experience.”

With five games left in the regular season, followed by the winner takes all Patriot League Tournament, Jacobs sights are squarely set on getting back to the NCAAs, this time on the court instead of as a sideline spectator. And with the end of his college career in sight, Jacobs has officially traded in his Sketchers and skateboard for high-top Under Armor sneakers and basketball shorts.

“I definitely want to play professional basketball,” said Jacobs. “That’s been my dream since I fell in love with the game early on and I’ve been having several conversations with coach Langel and coach Jordan about their process and kind of what they went through. So we’re just going to try and put a lot of that stuff off to the end of the season.”

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Photographs by Chris Dela Rosa

 

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v6

Don't look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics
Don’t look now but Army and Kyle Wilson are once again on the rise. Courtesy photo / Army Athletics

We are now nearly halfway through the conference slate and how these teams will stack up in the Patriot League Tournament, and who will be cutting down championship game the nets and going dancing in March is as big a mystery as ever. The league lacks a truly dominant team – there are no Bucknells, Lehighs, or Holy Crosses of previous generations – but there is incredible parity, which means that every single night has made for incredibly entertaining basketball.

So here’s a look at how we see the teams stacking up right now in our latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings. Don’t blink, our rankings will probably change on Wednesday.

1. Bucknell (11-10, 6-2 in PL)
Results: W 81-75 vs Army; W 75-61 at Loyola (MD); W 92-77 at Boston University.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Colgate
Don’t look now but Bucknell is picking up speed like a runaway freight train and has won four in a row. After struggling to survive a tough non-conference schedule, the young Bison seem to have found their footing and adjusted to their roles on the court. Oh, and, yeah, there’s that Chris Hass guy who has been absolutely lighting up from all over the floor. With home games against a suddenly resurgent Lehigh squad and a Colgate team that sits tied with them in the standings, if Bucknell can make it through this week unscathed they will be sitting squarely in the Patriot League driver’s seat.

2. Colgate (9-12, 6-2 in PL)

Results: W 65-53 at Navy; L 65-64 at Army; W 59-58 at Loyola (MD)
This week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Bucknell
Playing Navy and Army back-to-back on the road is about as hard a stretch as any Patriot League team can go through. Sure, there are better teams in the league year-in and year-out, but the service academies play so incredibly hard and so incredibly physical, it can be an experience akin to running back to back marathons, so the fact that the Raiders dropped the second game of that stretch isn’t a big cause for alarm. Damon Sherman-Newsome remains a dynamic scorer from the guard position, Austin Tillotson makes the offense go at the point, and several role players have been plugging the gaps.

3. Army (13-6, 4-4 in PL)
Results: L 81-75 vs Bucknell; W 65-64 vs Colgate; W 68-66 at American.
This Week: Thursday vs Boston University; Saturday vs Loyola (Md)
Don’t look now, but Army may be getting it’s second wind, knocking off Patriot League contenders Colgate and American by one and two points, respectively, in consecutive games. With teams selling out to stop star Kyle Wilson, Army has needed another reliable scorer and they appear to have gotten it in forward Tanner Plomb, who has scored 44 points in his last two games and 80 points in his last four games.

4. American (11-8, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 62-59 vs Lehigh; W 78-76 at Lafayette; L 59-54 at Boston University; L 68-66 vs Army.
This week: Wednesday at Navy
The Eagles backcourt trio of seniors Jesse Reed, Pee Wee Gardner and John Schoof are leaving everything they have on the floor, ranking first, second, and third in the nation in minutes per game. That is astounding. And on most nights, that trio is good enough to carry the Eagles to a win. But to climb to the top of these rankings and become the Patriot League team to beat, American is going to need to at least get some consistency from the supporting cast, especially in the post.

5. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 69-64 vs Holy Cross; W 61-47 vs Navy; W 75-71 at Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell, Saturday vs Boston University
How in the world did we get here? Just yesterday the Mountain Hawks looked like they were dead in the water, unable to generate any offense outside of 6’11” center Tim Kempton. Well, Lehigh seems to have finally found another scorer in sophomore guard Austin Price, who has taken advantage of Kempton’s double-teams by scoring 40 points over the last three games – all wins.

6. Boston University (8-11, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
The Terriers have lost four of their last five, and yet, they haven’t looked THAT bad – and, perhaps equally important, it’s hard to say that anyone below them in these rankings has looked better. Junior shooting guard John Papale seems to finally be hitting his stride after spending much of the season adjusting to a completely new niche as a creator and facilitator on offense in addition to his traditional role as a long-range marksman, and sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has turned into a legitimate star. If BU could get consistent play from role players like forwards Nate Dieudonne, Justin Alston and Eric Fanning, they’d be in very good shape.

7. Holy Cross (8-10, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 69-64 at Lehigh; W 74-73 vs Lafayette; W 76-65 vs Navy.
This week: Thursday at Loyola (MD);
Rewind a few weeks, and Holy Cross was completely dead in the water. Rewind a few months, and the Crusaders looked like world beaters and the Patriot League team to beat. Now, the truth seems to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. The Crusaders do not score the ball efficiently, and their offense relies on creating turnovers with energy and pressure on defense, resulting in transition offense and, plain and simply, taking more shots than their opponents.

8. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 78-76 vs American; L 74-73 at Holy Cross; L 75-71 vs Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Navy
The Leopards have come up just short in three-straight close games, losing to a good American squad by two at home, a floundering Holy Cross squad by one on the road, and, toughest of all, bitter-rival Lehigh by four at home. The Leopards still boast arguably the Patriot League’s top offense, with inside, mid-range, and outside scoring options, but they are struggling mightily to come up with stops on defense.

9. Loyola-Maryland (7-12, 3-5 in PL)
Results: W 91-86 (OT) vs Boston University; L 75-61 vs Bucknell; L 59-58 at Colgate.
This Week: Thursday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at Army.
The Greyhounds are incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced, but they are growing and learning and have played Patriot League frontrunners (at least for now) Colgate very tough on the road, and also beat a very solid BU squad in overtime. They aren’t ready to compete right now, but they are looking closer and closer to returning to relevance in the very near future.

10. Navy (7-13, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 65-53 vs Colgate; L 61-47 at Lehigh; L 76-65 at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Worth Smith returned from injury as a man possessed, and Navy was suddenly playing inspired basketball. Then Smith went down with yet another in a laundry list of injuries and the Midshipmen sputtered. Smith has once again returned to the court, could another Navy resurgence be far off?

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Tanner Plomb, Jr., F, Army

Plomb scored 44 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a pair wins over Colgate and American to help get the Black Knights back on track.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Brandon Alston, G, Lehigh

Alston scored 24 points and dished out eight assists in a pair of big wins for the Mountain Hawks.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

A thrilling night of Patriot League men’s basketball

Wednesday was one thrilling, chilling, and heart-palpitating rollercoaster ride for Patriot League men’s basketball, with four of the conference’s five games decided by four-points or less, including a come-from-behind overtime victory for Army, a buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer for American, and an exhilarating last-second comeback for Bucknell.

Here’s a quick look at the night’s action.

American 62 Lehigh 59

The Patriot League is truly a league where on any given night, anybody can play with anybody else in the conference, as evidenced by a downtrodden Lehigh squad giving defending conference champion American everything it could handle on the Eagles home court.

Six-foot-eleven sophomore center Tim Kempton was a monster for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds in 37 minutes of action, helping Lehigh claim a 37-24 advantage on the glass.

But it wasn’t enough.

American senior shooting guard Jesse Reed scored 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc, setting the stage for senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner’s heroics. Gardner scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, but his final three made all the difference. With the game tied at 59 following Kempton’s short jumper with nine seconds remaining, the diminutive playmaker calmly pushed the ball the length of the floor, snuck around a screen from forward Charlie Jones at the top of the key and buried an NBA-range 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.

Gardner’s heroics followed up another clutch performance Saturday when he scored five points in the final 13 seconds of regulation in an eventual double-overtime win at Colgate.

American moves to 3-2 in league play while Lehigh drops to 1-4.

Army 72 Holy Cross 70 (OT)
In a battle between two teams that began the season looking like league frontrunners only to fall hard and fast over the past month, Army got a much-needed win while Holy Cross suffered a heart-breaking – and possibly devastating – defeat.

Dylan Cox’ lay-up with two seconds left in overtime pushed Army past Holy Cross on the Crusaders’ home court in Worcester, Massachusetts. Junior forward Tanner Plomb scored a season-high 28 points, including 25 in regulation, and junior guard Kyle Wilson added 22.

“This was a great win for our program,” Cox said. “We definitely responded today, I thought our defense was great at times, we got the stops when we needed to and were able to come away with the win.”

Freshman forward Mitchell Hahn scored 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench, hitting 5-of-8 shots and 3-of-5 from long-range, and junior guard Cullen Hamilton scored 14 points off the bench. While the Crusaders’ bench played great, their starters struggled, with Malachi Alexander the only starter to crack double figures, scoring 10 points on 2-of-6 shooting. None of Holy Cross’ starting five shot even 40 percent from the floor.

“Obviously it’s a tough way for the game to end for us. I was proud of the way we fought and got back into the game and took the lead. I thought both teams were being very aggressive,“ said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown. “This is the third game for us in league play for us where we just come up one or two plays short. We’ve got to find a way to make one or two more winning plays – that’s the only way that winning is going to happen.”

Army led by 13 points with 14:38 remaining in the second half, but Holy Cross came roaring back to force overtime. Army led by four with just 34 seconds left in overtime, but big baskets from Hahn and Hamilton tied the game at 70 with 7 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Cox’ heroics.

Cox took the inbounds and pushed the ball the length of the floor – 94 feet – hitting a running lay-up with two seconds left for the win.

Army moves to 2-3 in league play, snapping a two-game conference losing streak, while Holy Cross falls to 1-4.

Bucknell 65 Navy 63

The Bison bounced back from an overtime loss against Holy Cross with a dramatic win over a Navy squad that had emerged as one of the surprises of the early conference slate.

Sophomore guard John Azzinaro scored 19 points in just 22 minutes, including a pair of late 3-pointers, shooting a blistering 6-of-7 from the field and an unconscious 5-of-5 from behind the arc. The diminutive point guard drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:17 left to tie the game at 61, and drilled another 3-pointer from the right corner with a little over 11 seconds left to grab the lead for good.

Navy won the rebounding battle 31-30, outshot the Bison from the floor (44.9 percent to 41.2 percent) and beat Bucknell at the free throw line (17-of-21 to 14-of-19), while also leading on the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Bison simply never quit.

“Navy out-played us for about 36-and-a-half minutes, but to our guys’ credit we didn’t panic,”said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. “Obviously Johnny carried us down the stretch. We made a change in the starting lineup tonight, and he handled it like a champ.”

Freshman forward Nana Foulland had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and senior guard Steve Kaspar added six assists off the bench for Bucknell. Navy was led by senior forward Worth Smith, who scored 14 points, and also got 12 points from center Edward Alade and 11 from guard Kendall Knorr.

Both teams now sit at 3-2 in league play.

Lafayette 69 Loyola (MD) 65
After Loyola gave them everything they could handle for the first 20 minutes of action, the Leopards made just enough plays in the second half to escape with a hard-fought win at home.

Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs hit five 3-pointers en route to 22 points, while senior forward Dan Trist and senior guard Joey Ptasinski added 13 points apiece. Lafayette hung on despite being out-rebounded 37-31, beaten at the line (Loyola hit 14-of-17 free throws to the Leopards’ 10-of-15) and played virtually even from the floor and behind the arc.

“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” said Hinrichs.

“Getting into league, it’s just so much different, everybody is well-prepared for you,” said Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon after the game.

Tyler Hubbard scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor, going 5-of-9 from downtown, freshman guard Andre Walker scored 17 off the bench, guard Eric Lester added 13, and freshman forward Cam Gregory ripped down 12 rebounds.

Colgate 62 Boston University 53
That one must have felt good for the Raiders, who snapped a 20-game losing streak against Boston University, while simultaneously grabbing sole possession of first place in league play.

Boston University came out of the gates like gangbusters, jumping all over the Raiders, 20-8, to open the game, but the Raiders responded, outplaying the Terriers from there on out.

Colgate senior shooting guard Damon Sherman-Newsome led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-9 from downtown, while also pulling down seven rebounds. Guard Luke Roh added 13 points and forward Matt McMullen pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to help the Raiders score a 33-28 advantage on the glass.

Colgate held Boston University to 37.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from behind the arc, while shooting 47.8 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.

The Terriers were led by Eric Fanning’s 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, while freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely added 13 points and forward Nate Dieudonne added 10. Boston University’s leading scorer, Cedric Hankerson, who began the night averaging nearly 20 points per game, was held to just three on 1-of-8 shooting.

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v5

Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.
Damon Sherman Newsome and Colgate are atop the latest Patriot League Power Rankings.

If nothing else, this is shaping up to be one entertaining, unpredictable, anyone-can-beat-anyone, anything-that-can-happen-will-happen season in the Patriot League, which seems devoid of a true favorite or “team to beat,” but stocked full of hungry, hard fighting squads. Two weeks ago, you’d be hard pressed to find a single solitary soul who would have told you that four games into conference play Boston University, Colgate and Navy would stand atop the standings with identical 3-1 conference records. You’d be equally hard pressed to find anyone brave enough to proclaim that the trio of non-conference favorites Lafayette, American and Army would stumble against the likes of Bucknell, Loyola, and Lehigh, respectively. And yet, here we are. So without further ado, here’s a look at the latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings, all but guaranteed to be in a state of flux at this same time next week.

1. Colgate (6-11, 3-1 in PL)
Results: W 74-60 vs Holy Cross; L 71-69 (2OT) at American.
This week: Wednesday vs Boston University; Saturday at Navy.
Honestly, picking a “true” number one at this point is an exercise in futility with three 3-1 teams that all have shown strengths but also big weaknesses, and several seemingly more talented squads below them in the standings. With that said, the Raiders seem to “get” what they can and can’t do on the court, play within themselves, and have a very nice inside-outside game going with guard Damon Sherman-Newsome and center Ethan Jacobs. Guard Luke Roh and forward Matt McMullen –men without true positions – hit the glass hard and do all the little things, and point guard Austin Tillotson remains a dynamic game-changer.

2. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 79-69 at Bucknell; W 63-62 at Boston University.
This Week: Wednesday vs Loyola; Saturday vs American
The Leopards have looked uninspiring in losses to Navy and at Bucknell, but in fairness, point guard Nick Linder – the player who truly makes the Leopards go – was out with a separated shoulder and then readjusting to being back on the court. With Dan Trist in the paint, Seth Hinrichs knocking down mid-range jumpers and Joey Ptasinski draining threes, with Linder creating havoc off the dribble, this remains the most dangerous offense in the league.

3. Boston University (7-8, 3-1 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
If not for a blown coverage on a back door play with 2.1 seconds left, the Terriers would be standing at 4-0 in the Patriot League and atop the OBW Power Rankings. But here we are. Sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has come into his own as a true star, capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor while also helping to facilitate offense by shouldering a bit of the point guard duties. But Hankerson has been outstanding all year long. The true change for BU has been the emergence of Nate Dieudonne and Justin Alston around the rim and on the glass, along with inspired play of late from freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely, which has opened the floor for Hankerson and sharpshooter John Papale. Sophomore tranfer Eric Fanning remains a bit enigmatic, but he has given the Terriers a viable scoring option and slasher off the bench.

4. Navy (7-9, 3-1 in PL)
Results: L 70-64 vs Boston University; W 75-66 at Army.
This week: Wednesday vs BU; Saturday at Army.
What a story Navy is turning out to be. It’s probably cliché to use words and phrases like “perseverance,” “heart,” “effort,” “never give up,” with a service academy, but boy has Navy embodied them. The Midshipmen began the year decimated by injuries losing eight of their first 10 games against Division I foes, but Navy never stopped fighting, and with the return of star forward Worth Smith and several other key reserves, the Middies have won four of their last five, including a HUGE road win over archrival Army. Smith has quickly established himself as Navy’s best player, capable of willing his way to the rim and rebounds over far larger post players, while allowing guards Tilman Dunbar and Brandon Venturini to excel as role players.

5. American (9-7, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 56-53 (OT) at Loyola; W 71-69 (2OT) vs Loyola.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday at Lafayette
American can really, really defend, and their back court of wings Jesse Reed, John Schoof and Darius “Peewee” Gardner are as good – if not better than – any in the league. If the Eagles can get anything out of their front court, they are going to climb these rankings, because even now, getting almost nothing from the four and five spots, they can play with anyone in the league.

6. Bucknell (7-10, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L W 79-69 vs Lafayette; L 65-62 OT) at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs Navy; Saturday vs Army.
With double-digit wins over both American and Lafayette, we should probably have the Bison higher on these rankings – and ff they can survive the gauntlet of Navy and Army this week, they will definitely see their stock climb (at least in our eyes). I suppose right now it is simply a matter of still not quite believing in such a young squad that doesn’t “wow” you in any one particular area. On the flip side, the Bison also don’t seem to have any serious deficiencies. With junior guard Chris Hass emerging as the team’s go-to scorer, bruising freshman center Nana Foulland getting buckets, blocks and boards and freshman point guard J.C. Show also emerging as instant offense, this is a team that could still have a great deal of growth left in it this year, and a ceiling still a good ways higher than it’s ranking.

7. Army (10-5, 1-3 in PL)
Results: L 71-60 vs Lehigh; L 75-66 vs Navy.
This Week: Wednesday at Holy Cross; Saturday at Bucknell.
Wow. A few weeks ago when I spoke with Army head coach Zach Spiker, he opened the interview by saying “A proud peacock today, a feather duster tomorrow.” Right now those words are proving prophetic in the worst possible way. Spiker has continued to tell his players that they can not be satisfied or they would get tripped up, so the Black Knights’ free fall certainly isn’t due to coaching oversight or resting on their laurels. Army simply hasn’t been the same since star guard Kyle Wilson went down on Dec. 21 after taking a shot to the head against Maine. Wilson has returned to the court, and is back to his scoring ways, but the Black Knights just look… different, completely unable to get out and pressure the ball on defense and turn it into transition offense. This team might finally be feeling the loss of do-everything sophomore forward Tanner Omlid, arguably it’s best defender and most selfless player, lost for the season due to a leg injury.

8. Loyola-Maryland (6-9, 2-2 in PL)
Results: W 56-53 (OT) vs American; W 65-60 at Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Lafayette; Sunday vs Boston University.
After a really rough opening two months, the Greyhounds have strung together a pair of wins, including an overtime thriller against American, and looked very sharp in doing it. Tyler Hubbard continues to put up points from behind the arc, and 6’6” wing Eric Laster has proved to be a great back court compliment, but the Greyhounds biggest impact has been coming from junior Jarred Jones and freshman Cam Gregory who are combining for nearly 15 rebounds per game.

9. Holy Cross (6-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: L 74-60 at Colgate; W 65-62 (OT) vs Bucknell.
This week: Wednesday vs Army; Saturday at Lehigh.
The Crusaders finally ended their five-game losing streak with an overtime win at home against Bucknell, but it’s going to take a lot more if they are going to follow through on the preseason hype and early season expectations of competing for a league title. Head coach Milan Brown has shuffled the starting lineup, moving wing Eric Green, arguably the league’s top defender, and finesse-four Taylor Abt to the bench for 6’11” center Matt Husek and forward Malachi Alexander. That move allows forward Malcolm Miller to move from the middle of the paint to the wing, and use his length and athleticism to create mismatches, while also alleviating a bit of the Crusaders massive deficiency on the glass. Will it pay off long term? Stay tuned.

10. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL)
Results: W 71-60 at Army; L 65-60 at Loyola.
This Week: Wednesday at American; Saturday vs Holy Cross.
Six-foot-eleven center Tim Kempton is an absolute beast on the low blocks, and freshman point guard Kharon Ross does a great job of feeding him the ball. Unfortunately, the Mountain Hawks have yet to find any sort of offense that does not revolve around doing anything other than that. With defenses focusing on stopping Kempton at all costs, Lehigh has struggled mightily.

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette

Trist scored 44 points and pulled down 16 rebounds while shooting 64.5 percent from the floor as Lafayette split a pair of games over the week, including a 24-point 11-rebound double-double in a big, last-second win at Boston University.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Kharon Ross, G, Lehigh

Ross registered 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists , while shooting an even 50 percent from the floor (9-of-18)in two games, including 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting in a win at Army.

OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

Escape from Anchorage: Damon Sherman-Newsome’s long and winding road to Colgate

Sherman-Newsome cover

It has been an incredibly long and winding road for Damon Sherman-Newsome. Far longer than the 4,147 miles that stand between his hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, and Lufkin, Texas, where he played a year of junior college ball. And it has been longer still than the 1,544 miles from Lufkin to Hamilton, New York, where Sherman-Newsome is currently the star senior guard spearheading the resurgence of Colgate men’s basketball.

“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure,” says Sherman-Newsome, who chased his dreams of playing Division I college basketball north, south, east and west across the United States before finally seeing it realized.

A muscular 6-foot-5-inch guard, Sherman-Newsome keeps his beard — more five-day than 5 o’clock shadow — longer than his close-cropped hair. Sherman-Newsome grew up in Anchorage, a strip of coastal lowland that sits on the edge of treacherous mudflats and in the shadows of still active volcanoes. Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage has a population of about 300,950 residents, most of whom will never see beyond the municipality’s outer limits.

Even for the likes of Mario Chalmers, Carlos Boozer, and Trajon Langdon — all players who made it to the NBA — trying to make it out of Alaska and into Division I basketball is a task akin to trying to escape from Alcatraz. For a player like Sherman-Newsome — a man without a position who relies on grit, guts and guile to overcome athletic shortcomings — it is even more daunting.

Playing for Bartlett High School in the Cook Inlet Conference in Anchorage, Sherman-Newsome averaged 18 points and eight rebounds per game during his four-year career, leading his team to three conference championships. As a senior, he averaged 21 points and nine rebounds, leading Bartlett to the state title.

But Division I offers never materialized for Sherman-Newsome, who spent his high school career playing center in an undersized, overlooked league.

“Out of high school, I didn’t get recruited like I wanted to,” he says. “It was mainly a lot of D-II schools from the Northwest area and U of A (University of Alaska – Anchorage) that were heavily recruiting me. So in order to reach Division I, I felt it was necessary for me to go to junior college to help my recruiting and exposure.”

Sherman-Newsome 14

In the late summer of 2011, months after winning the state championship and receiving his third-straight All-State honors, Sherman-Newsome traveled more than 4,000 miles from his family and home in the frigid north, to the Texas heat to play junior college basketball at Angelina College, in the hopes of catching the eyes of a Division I program.

At the same time, Colgate head coach Matt Langel and his staff were trying to find ways to get talented players onto their team. Playing in the shadows of far more successful squads in the small Patriot League, Langel needed to find under-the-radar players that other coaches had overlooked. Players like Sherman-Newsome. Langel consulted with one of his colleagues, former Cornell and Boston College coach Steve Donahue, who pointed him in the direction of looking for junior college transfers.

“There’s no secret about it, Colgate isn’t located near a metropolis, unlike when I was coming from Philadelphia, you’re not in anybody’s hometown, so you have to be creative in general in recruiting,” says Langel. “Specifically here, you’ve got a great product to sell, but you’ve got to figure out who will be interested in that product.”

But with the rigorous academic standards of the Patriot League, Langel and his coaches couldn’t recruit the stereotypical JuCos – kids who were obvious DI talents coming out of high school, but couldn’t get through the Division I academic clearinghouse. And that brought Sherman-Newsome, who Langel had scouted when he was in high school playing AAU basketball from a team based in Seattle, back onto the coach’s radar.

“Damon specifically came up because you’re trying to make contact with all of these different junior colleges, and his dad was very active in the AAU community,” says Langel. “We followed him through his progress and his year in Texas, at his two-year school, and one thing led to the next and he became a really good option for us to recruit.

And while other coaches had dismissed Sherman-Newsome as being a too-small for a Division I center, Langel saw him as a future wing, whose background banging on the blocks could work to his advantage.

“You watch the film in high school, growing up in Alaska, he was often the biggest guy on the court so he had an ability to finish around the basket, he had good skill on the interior and clearly had been working on extending that out to the perimeter,” says Langel.

Before committing to basketball, Sherman-Newsome played a variety of sports — first baseball and soccer, and then football and basketball. While on the gridiron, he played linebacker and as he got older quarterback, two positions that require the ability to see the entire field and quickly analyze rapidly developing situations, traits that Sherman-Newsome says played a big role in allowing him to switch positions on the college hardwood.

“I think it’s helped me in terms of seeing the floor and knowing where everyone is supposed to be at,” says Sherman-Newsome.

During his first semester at Angelina, Sherman-Newsome saw significant minutes and performed well, and began to receive the recruiting notoriety he wanted. But following the break, his playing time took a huge hit, and as his minutes dried up. So did the attention from Division I coaches.

“My recruiting was pretty good my first semester of junior college,” says Sherman-Newsome. “And then for some reason, I went from starting to not playing at all, so the recruiting started to die down a bit. I can make assumptions, but I have no idea what the true reasoning was, because I thought I was playing well.”

But one coach kept coming around: Langel.

“Even though his statistics weren’t overwhelming in his year at junior college, we felt like he had a good feel for the game, a good IQ, and a good understanding,” says Langel.

Sherman-Newsome 23

The following April, Sherman-Newsome visited Colgate’s campus in rural Hamilton, and it quickly became apparent that it was a great match for everyone.

“Colgate was one of the only schools that stayed in contact with me,” he says. “And then I came for an unofficial visit in April, I guess they liked me, and I felt kind of lucky that it happened that way, because most of the other schools gave up on me after I wasn’t playing.”

The adjustment from junior college to Colgate was not the easiest one for Sherman-Newsome. Once again over 4,000 miles away from home, he had to assimilate into yet another completely different culture both on and off the court.

“It was pretty different,” says Sherman-Newsome. “Junior college in general is a lot different than Colgate, and just where I grew up. Mainly I’m just talking about the academics. You’re not really expected to do as much in the classroom; it’s mainly focused on basketball and then also just the type of basketball being played. Especially coming to Colgate after being in junior college, it was a really fast-paced, up-tempo style without a lot of organization both on and off the court.”

At the same time, Colgate was going through a rough period, just months removed from an 8-22 season that saw them win just two Patriot League games.

“When I first got here, I felt like the team didn’t really believe in each other and what we were trying to do,” says Sherman-Newsome.

Since joining Langel’s team, Sherman-Newsome has always kept his rough experience in Texas in his thoughts, using it as motivation to make sure he stays on the court to play the game he loves as long as he can.

“It’s always been in the back of my head, and I always knew that I could play at this level and be a good player,” says Sherman-Newsome. “At first it kind of messed with me, and I second-guessed myself. But then after I got to [Colgate] and saw that I could play, it provided extra motivation for me.”

Now with Sherman-Newsome well into his third and final season as a Raider, the gamble that Langel took nearly three years ago on a player who averaged just five points per game at the junior college level is paying off.

“He has learned how hard it is to have success in Division I basketball, he’s learned how big the commitment is, how hard you have to push yourself, how much you have to work every single day,” says Langel. “That’s been a learning process for him, and it wasn’t easy for him right away, but he’s continued to put in the time, energy and work to learn how to be better, and get into better condition to make himself a better basketball player.”

Sherman-Newsome is currently the leading scorer on a Colgate team that has kicked off Patriot League play with three impressive victories against Lehigh, Bucknell, and Holy Cross. During the team’s most recent win, a 14-point victory over Holy Cross, Sherman-Newsome was unstoppable, dropping 30 points, grabbing four rebounds and dishing out four assists.

As one of several experienced players on this year’s team, Sherman-Newsome feels that he has witnessed a culture change in the locker room during his time at Colgate.

“I think that’s one of the biggest differences, we believe,” he says. “Even though it’s been a tough year so far, we’re sticking with it and I think it’s starting to pay dividends a little bit. Hopefully we continue to grow in that direction. We’re a lot more together, and we trust each other.”

Sherman-Newsome has come a long way since his days of playing for Bartlett High, but he’s not ready for the latest leg of his basketball journey to come to an end.

“My number one goal,” he says, “is to continue playing as long as I can.”

If you enjoyed this story visit our features section for more compelling pieces on the inspiring players who suit up out of the limelight in the shadows of mid-major basketball.

OBW Patriot League Power Rankings v4

Welcome back Worth Smith indeed.
Welcome back Worth Smith indeed.

The final buzzer sounded on opening night of Patriot League play a few hours before the New Year’s Eve ball dropped, and we were all left stumbling around trying to pick up the pieces of what we had previously thought about the league’s hierarchy. Out of the five games played between the PL’s 10 teams, the argument could be made that the underdog, on paper, in each of the five grudge matches came out on top.

Boston University snapped out of its seemingly season-long funk to knock off a Holy Cross team that was supposed to be competing for a title; defending conference champion American was beaten soundly by a Bucknell squad still finding its way; Colgate went on the road to knock off a Lehigh squad that was looking like it could be a contender; a Navy team that looked dead in the water (no pun intended) just weeks earlier annihilated Loyola; and in the heavyweight headliner of the night, Lafayette went in to Army’s house and stomped the Black Knights.

So now what are we supposed to do with our previous perceptions and predictions? Crumple them up and throw them away.

Now two games into the conference slate – the “real season” so to speak – here is our best guesstimate of how the team’s stack up in the latest edition of the OBW Patriot League Power Rankings.

1. Lafayette (9-4, 1-1 in PL)
Results: L 96-69 at #10 Kansas; W 76-71 vs NJIT; W 92-78 at Army (PL); L 69-65 vs Navy (PL).
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell; Saturday at BU.
So, yeah, we’re not totally comfortable with Lafayette atop our Patriot League Power Rankings, mainly because of the loss on their home court to Navy, but we’d be even less comfortable with any other team from the PL at the top. The loss to Navy certainly wasn’t good, but the Midshipmen are playing absolutely inspired ball right now and chances are, everyone in the PL is going to lose at least one game they should win… wait, check that, every team in the PL HAS lost at least one game they should have won with the exception of BU and Navy.

As for the Leopards, they are really scoring the ball from everyone on the court, with Aussie banger Dan Trist scoring in the post at a tremendous clip, Trist’s frontcourt mate Seth Hinrichs owning the mid-range game, and shooting guard Joey Ptasinski playing the role of the sniper from Saving Private Ryan from behind the arc. And it all starts with point guard Nick Lindner creating havoc off the dribble before zipping a perfect pass to the open man.

Right now, this team is as complete a squad as it gets in the Patriot League.

2. Army (10-3, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 72-69 (OT) vs Maine; W 93-48 vs Coast Guard (Div. III); L 92-78 vs Lafayette (PL); W 77-53 vs Loyola.
This Week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Navy.
The Black Knights engine, for the most part, is made up of many interchangeable parts that are all constantly revving in overdrive, withg head coach Zach Spiker subbing in a new wave of players every whistle to play a breakneck fast-break game on offense, and apply pressure on defense. Army is selfless, relentless, incredibly hard working, gets after it on the glass and shares the ball tremendously. However, for all their depth, it has become glaringly apparent that there is one part of the team’s sleek sports car that simply can not be replaced: Junior shooting guard Kyle Wilson. Wilson went down early against Maine with what was feared to be a concussion and didn’t return, and the Black Knights nearly flew off the racetrack. Wilson, an awkward looking but completely unguardable scorer as a 6’5” 2-guard, returned against Lafayette, but was clearly not himself. He looked much more comfortable against Loyola, going off for his usual, effortless 20-plus, but it is apparent just how important he is to the Black Knights: With him, they could win it all. Without him, Army is a scrappy squad that will fight with everything it has, but will struggle to finish in the top half of the league. Right now, they’ve got Wilson and that is a problem for the rest of the league.

With that said, anything less than a 2-0 week from Army this week and the Black Knights are definitely going to drop in our next rankings.

3. American (8-6, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 46-45 vs Mount Saint Mary’s; L 59-47 at Stony Brook; L 57-47 at Bucknell; W 53-49 vs Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday at Loyola; Saturday vs Colgate.
According to Kenpom, we should have American second, slightly above Army. We think of Kenpom as a bible of sorts when it comes to the game of basketball, but we also just can’t shake what we’ve seen from the Eagles, who rank fourth in the entire country in points allowed per game (52.9) and fourth from last in the nation in points scored (52.4). Simply put: despite having two wings in John Schoof and Jesse Reed who can score with the best of them, and a straw-that-stirrs-the-drink point guard in Darius Gardner, the Eagles play super, super slow. When they are going good, they are deliberate, get stops, work the clock and score at the other end. When they are not, their paper-thin front court gets dominated. We think their Kenpom rankings are slightly inflated by their style of play that is going to keep them close in just about any game against anyone, but think their frontcourt woes could hurt them against some of the Patriot League’s bigmen. We’ll see how we feel next week.

4. Boston University (6-7, 2-0 in PL)
Results: L 78-62 at Dayton; W 69-46 vs Wentworth (Div. III); W 75-72 (OT) at Holy Cross (PL); W 75-56 vs Lehigh (PL).
This Week: Wednesday at Navy; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Say what? The Terriers spent all of the non-conference slate towards the bottom of these rankings. Last week the Terriers were struggling to put away a Division III team at home, two games later their fourth in a very competitive Patriot League after. Serious? Yeah, seriously. That’s what happens when you open up league play going 2-0 and also begin to develop a true offense with low post options, slashes to the hoop, and the ability to open up and then knock down shots from the perimeter. The emergence of Eric Fanning as a scorer off the bench, and flashes from fellow first year transfer Blaise Mbargorba in the post give the Terriers two completely new dimensions. If both can keep raising their respective games, BU is going to be good.

5. Navy (6-8, 2-0 in PL)
Results: W 61-56 vs Towson; W 70-47 vs Loyola (PL); W 69-65 vs Lafayette (PL).
This week: Wednesday vs BU; Saturday at Army.
Say double what?!?! What-what?!?! Navy fifth in the league? Navy that opened the season losing four in a row and went 1-7 in its first eight games against Division I opponents? Yeah, Navy, right here, fifth. With Wednesday’s battle of undefeateds against BU, and Saturday’s showdown with archrival Army, a good week will send the Midshipmen’s stock soaring. No team was hit harder by the injury bug – more like the injury bout of the Black Plague – than Navy. The return of Worth Smith, along with several other key reserves, has completely changed the Midshipmen’s game, with Smith playing like an absolute manimal in the post, scoring at will and ripping down boards. Smith’s return has allowed his fellow senior Brandon Venturini to move into the role of Robin to Smith’s Batman, and the strong, tough-as-nails guard has provided scoring, playmaking, selfless leadership, and a sheer will to win. This could be a great story in the making.

6. Colgate (5-10, 2-0 in PL)
Results: L 78-43 at Syracuse; L 69-64 at Columbia; W 68-61 at Lehigh; W 68-62 vs Bucknell.
This week: Wednesday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at American.
It’s pretty crazy to think that two games into league play Colgate joins BU and Navy as the league’s only remaining undefeated teams. Point guard Austin Tillotson makes the Raiders go as both a dynamic playmaker (4.9 assists per game, 2.4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) while also serving as a dynamic scorer. Tillotson’s partner in backcourt crime is senior Damon Sherman-Newsome, a 6’5” strong guard who scores from all over. Both Tillotson and Sherman-Newsome are shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor from the guard positions, and the Raiders big men are rebounding the ball and clogging the lane, a very good combination.

7. Bucknell (6-9, 1-1 in PL)
Results: W 88-65 vs Case Western Reserve (Div. III); L 60-53 at Wake Forest; L 73-71 vs Siena; W 57-47 vs American (PL); L 68-62 at Colgate (PL).
This Week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Holy Cross.
The Bison have found their go-to scorer and star in junior wing Chris Haas, who can score from all over the floor and isn’t afraid to take the big shot. They’ve also finally found a second option in bruising freshman big man Nana Foulland, who is finishing with ferocious authority around the rim. Questions still remain about point guard play and ability to consistently defend, but if a few more young players continue to mature, Bucknell could make a move towards the top of the league this year.

8. Lehigh (6-7, 0-2 in PL)
Results: L 80-65 at Quinnipiac; W 84-81 (3OT) at Arizona State; W 58-55 at UMBC; L 68-61 vs Colgate; L 75-56 at Boston University.
This Week: Wednesday at Army; Saturday vs Loyola.
Six-foot-10-inch sophomore center Tim Kempton remains a serious problem for opponents on the blocks, and an almost automatic double-double as long as he stays out of foul trouble. The problem is that teams are now selling out to stop Kempton – doubling and tripling him whenever he touches the ball – and thus far Lehigh hasn’t found a way to make them consistently pay for it. Freshman point guard Kahron Ross has been fantastic, averaging 5.5 assists and a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. But a huge percentage of Ross’ assists come on feeds to Kempton, and Lehigh needs some other reliable scorers.

9. Holy Cross (5-7)
Results: This week: L 67-48 at Canisius; L 58-39 at Pitt; L 75-72 (OT) vs Boston University (PL); L 53-49 at American (PL).
This week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Bucknell.
This season is quickly running off the rails and turning in to a total train wreck in Worcester. The good news is that it’s still early in the Patriot League slate and the better news is that the Crusader’s talent and athleticism are really, really good. The bad news is that they have now lost four in a row and six of their last seven games and are playing at a very underwhelming energy level – energy being a key component for a team that doesn’t have a true low-post option and needs to win by pushing the ball on offense and pressuring it in the back court on D. This is a HUGE week for Holy Cross, one which could very well determine how the rest of their season will go.

10. Loyola-Maryland (4-9, 0-2 in PL)
Results: L 74-65 vs Mount Saint Mary’s; L 68-42 vs Saint Joseph’s; L 67-52 vs Stony Brook; W 61-59 vs Fairfield (OT); L 70-47 at Navy (PL); L 77-53 vs Army.
This Week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday at Lehigh.
The Greyhounds are young and rebuilding, and these growing pains are to be expected. The good news is that they haven’t quit on the season and are still playing hard. The better news is that they have some very talented young players and a great leader in redshirt junior Tyler Hubbard. Who has blossomed into a legitimate scoring threat every night. The bad news is that right now, they are just being outclassed by the rest of the league.

OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Worth Smith, Sr., F, Navy

It’s been quite the comeback for Smith, who returned to action after missing all but the first half of the season opener. Smith averaged 19 points and 8.5 rebounds and was THE big reason that Navy took the Patriot League by storm, racing out to a 2-0 start to the conference slate.

OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell.

Foulland averaged 13.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in Bucknell’s first two Patriot League contests. Foulland scored nine points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with five rebounds in a big 57-47 win over American, and followed it up with a career-high 17 points hitting 7-of-11 shots in a loss at Colgate.

Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Seth Hinrichs, Sr., F, Lafayette
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army

Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell

State of Colgate basketball: Raider veterans need to pull team together

Austin Tillotson is averaging 4.4 assists and 12.7 points per game while shooting 48.2 percent from the floor. Courtesy photo / Colgate Athletics
Austin Tillotson is averaging 4.4 assists and 12.7 points per game while shooting 48.2 percent from the floor. Courtesy photo / Colgate Athletics

Before the season began, the question surrounding the Colgate basketball program was whether or not they’d be able to make the jump from Patriot League doormat to conference competitor in just one season. Now a day before the team opens its conference slate on the road against Lehigh, that question still remains.

“I think that we’re close,” said Colgate head coach Matt Langel.

Close may even be a big understatement for what Colgate has been for the past two years. Of Colgate’s 18 losses last season, all but four were by single digits. Of the 3-9 Raiders losses this season, all but defeats at the hands of Syracuse and No. 21 Ohio State have been by seven points or less.

Langel knows his team has the skills to be competitive, but in his eyes, getting over the hump of these tough losses is about combining everyone’s talents and forming a cohesive unit.

“I think it’s really banding together, and everybody just doing a little bit more on a daily basis over the course of a practice, a week, a game,” said Langel. “Everybody can do a little bit more on the offensive end, on the defensive end, and you’re right where you need to be. It sounds like a cliché but that’s really the only way to win these close games.”

This season, Langel has slightly adjusted his coaching style for how many experienced players are on his team, among them fifth-year seniors Pat Moore and Ethan Jacobs, seniors Damon Sherman-Newsome, Luke Roh, Matt McMullen, and red-shirt junior Austin Tillotson.

“You’re sensitive to the fact that the guys have lost a lot of heartbreaking games but it’s college basketball,” said Langel. “To me they’ve got the best lives going. They get to go to school, many of them on scholarship at a great academic institution, they get to lace up their sneakers and play basketball everyday, and if they can’t get excited about that then they’ve got to revisit what they’re doing.”

According to Langel, the veterans will be the key to Colgate’s season from here on out.

Sherman-Newsone, a big 6-foot-5-inch guard, can do a little bit of everything and score from anywhere on the floor, and leads the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game and is shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 37.1 percent from behind the arc. Tillotson, a dynamic 6’1” point guard is the engine that makes the Raiders go, averaging 4.4 assists and 12.7 points per game while shooting an astounding 48.2 percent from the floor.

Jacobs, a 6-foot-11 center, provides an inside presence with 9.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, while Roh, a junkyard dog guard does a bit of everything at 6’5” averaging 7.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

“I think as you go into league play, you’re hoping that your veteran group has learned some lessons, and everyone can stick together, and find a way to win some of these close games in the fashion that American did last year,” said Langel.

Senior Damon Sherman-Newsome is leading the Raiders in scoring at 14.7 points per game. Courtest photo / Colgate Athletics.
Senior Damon Sherman-Newsome is leading the Raiders in scoring at 14.7 points per game. Courtest photo / Colgate Athletics.