The ENC Men’s Basketball team finished an impressive regular season with a record of 18-7, despite the adversity they faced throughout, and the upsetting loss at the first playoff game.
Nevertheless, the team owes much of its success to Coach James Aller as this is his seventh season as head coach. Coach Aller has guided the Men’s Basketball team to their third consecutive tournament berth, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 1996-97 season. Aller also owes much of the team’s victories to the performance and mentality of his players.
“This season we have better players which make things a lot easier,” said Aller. “On top of that we have players that expect to win, not hope to win. That makes a difference.”
The expectation of victory comes from the fact that the Lions’ most used starting lineup is composed of all seniors, including Jaylen Owens, Justin Wagner, Jeremy Wagner, Lequan Gomes, and Eric Lynch. Yet, at the start of the season, it was junior David Eddings that caught the coach’s attention.
The team started the season with a 93-82 victory over Wheelock College on a neutral court in Boston. Eddings had a season high 17 rebounds and 13 points. He saw his minutes increase from an average of four minutes per game his first two years to 23 minutes this past season.
“Dave Eddings surprised me with how well he adapted to a much larger role this season,” said Coach Aller, referring to the fact that the losses of Corey Doran and Alex Jarman from last year’s team opened up playing opportunities for Eddings. He flourished with his newfound opportunities, posting career-highs in all statistical categories.
Throughout the year, the Lions showed a great deal of potential in that they could be a formidable team once the CCC Tournament begins, but Coach Aller pointed to one specific game in which the Lions showed that they could do something special.
“When we beat MIT, I was kind of surprised and realized our potential might be a little higher than I thought,” Aller said.
Aller had good reason to be surprised as MIT was 18-8 the previous season and made it to the semifinals of the NEWMAC Tournament. ENC was able to force MIT to commit 18 turnovers and scored a season low 51 points. The victory may have flashed their potential, but their nine consecutive victories to start the season solidified it.
During Christmas break, the Lions were 9-0 and in first place in the Commonwealth Coast Conference. Owens factored heavily into the undefeated start with 16 points and five assists per game over that nine game stretch. Owens would finish the season as the ninth all-time leading scorer in the history of ENC basketball. Not to be outdone, teammate Eric Lynch became the 29th all-time leading scorer in ENC history. These two historical feats could not come without the offense’s upbeat playing style.
“We like to space the floor and use my ability to create to open outside opportunities for the Wagner twins, as well as inside opportunities for LeQuan, David, and Eric,” Senior Jaylen Owens said.
The opportunities were rampant as the Lions lead the conference in assists per game.
However, after nine consecutive victories the Lions suffered five consecutive losses and dropped from first to third place in the CCC. One major issue that affected them drastically was rebounding. Lions were out-rebounded by 38 rebounds over the course of their five game losing streak, an aspect of the game that the Lions are severely undersized in.
“We are smaller than every team we play, so one two things we try to focus on to offset that are boxing out and forcing turnovers and using our speed to our advantage,” said Owens.
One player that hasn’t had issues with rebounding is LeQuan Gomes. He brings an intensity and energy that is unmatched by many of his opponents. He attributes his play style to NBA world champion Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors.
“He’s undersized, versatile, and brings a lot of energy to the game when he plays, something I try to emulate in my game,” Gomes said.
Gomes’ playing this season proved that he provides tremendous value to the team’s success. Despite his play, Gomes remained motivated by seeking revenge upon the teams that defeated ENC during the regular season in the playoffs; especially their arch rival Gordon.
“I would like to play Gordon, I was in a lot of foul trouble that game and I missed the layup that could have won us the game, so I would really like to play Gordon,” Gomes said.
The game he referred to is the Jan. 30 meeting at Gordon, a game that was preceded by a Lions four-game winning streak that snapped a four-game losing streak. Following the loss to Gordon, the Lions would then go on to win their next five games before a loss to Nichols 87-80 in the season finale. The team’s season can be divided into dominant winning streaks and disappointing losing streaks.
“Every team catches a slump and we just caught ours in the worst way, but with that all out the way we have been playing well recently and we hope to continue that into the playoffs,” said Gomes.
The ENC Men’s Basketball team took a devastating loss (67-68) to Roger Williams Feb. 23. The victor was decided down to the seconds by the end, ENC losing by one point. Although it’s the end for the five seniors on the team, there is much hope and anticipation for next season with a bench full of strong, young players that will return next year.