Men’s basketball team exits NE-10 tournament, prepares for NCAA
Aaron Johnson – Sports Editor
It was all set to be written in the story books. Southern Connecticut State men’s basketball team started the season ranked No. 2 in all of Division-II and were the favorite to repeat as NE-10 champions. Then after winning the conference, they were suppose to compete for a potential berth in the National Championship game.
Well that is why they play the game.
Southern Connecticut finished the regular season 22-7, but they are coming off a disappointing showing in the NE-10 tournament after a first-round loss to St. Michael’s College, the third time this season the Purple Knights have knocked off the Owls.
“Everyone was kind of taken off guard by our early exit,” said team co-captain Luke Houston. “I was extremely disappointed, frustrated, let down, you name it and that’s what I was feeling.”
Southern is coming off a season where they finished 30-3, a school record, before making it to the Elite Eight for just the second time in program history. So expectations coming into the season were high and the Owls had a huge target on their backs. But sophomore guard Michael Mallory said that he thinks that those expectations has built a strong sense of comradery amongst the Owls.
“We have trust in one another,” he said. “(And) belief in the coaches and we believe we can do it. That’s it.”
Mallory has been a huge part of Southern’s successes this season, but he struggled in the loss to St. Michael’s, scoring 11 points on 1-of-12 shooting and 0-of-8 from behind the arc. A very far cry from his season average of 18.3 points per game and 42 percent shooting from three-point range.
“I was upset with myself,” Mallory said. “Because of how I shot the ball. But I talked to coach and he just told me to keep working and it will pay off in the tournament.”
Head coach Mike Donnelly has an experienced bunch that should be ready for the postseason and the drama that it brings. Though the Owls have struggled this season, the goal has remained the same. Getting back to Indiana and finishing what was started a season ago.
“I think everyone is trying to put the NE-10 in the past,” said Houston. “Use it to motivate us and focus on the bigger picture which is to win a national championship. This team is very motivated, humbled, and hungry right now.”
The Owls have been humbled a few times this season. A year ago they won 19 in a row and lost only three games the entire season. This season has been a learning experiences for some of the younger players after having so much success last year.
“I think that (NE-10) was a wake-up call for a lot of guys,” Houston said. “It was a bit of a reality check and it has forced us to refocus and get back to the basics. I don’t want to say it was a blessing in disguise but there are definitely some positives we can take from this.”
Despite the struggles and bumps along the season, the Owls are still one of the favorites to come out of the region. They were able to get to the top seed in the NE-10 and boast one of the top scoring teams in the entire region. So the possibility to make it back to Indiana still remains high, but it will come down to how consistent the Owls are able to play. Houston said that he is not worried about that and the team is prepared to play well.
“We need a greater sense of urgency,” he said. “Getting our confidence back and doing the little things. It honestly doesn’t matter who we play or what seed we are. We are focused on one goal and we don’t care who we have to go through to get there. We will be ready for anyone.”
Photo of team taken in December 2014. Photo Credit: Derek Torrellas