Basketball expecting a run at NCAA Tournament title
Michael Riccio – Sports Editor
A season after missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years, sophomore Ulyen Coleman said the expectation for the team is to make it back.
“We should be an NCAA Tournament team,” Coleman said. “We should make a deep run. We have enough talent to do all of that; the size, the guards, the quickness, the athleticism. I think the sky’s the limit this year. I think we can do really well.”
Coleman said the team must remain focused and stay disciplined everyday while continuing to work hard.
“We know if we come out with a lot of desire to win, we can definitely beat anybody in this conference,” Coleman said. “I think we have one of the most talented teams. I think we can really do a lot of special things this year.”
A year after going 16-12 and 11-9 in conference play, the Owls were picked first in the preseason NE10 coaches’ poll. Senior guard Isaiah McLeod said the team must stay humble about being ranked as the preseason favorite.
“People are recognizing our talent, but we still have to produce and play like we are one of the best teams in the conference and don’t let anybody beat us,” McLeod said.
McLeod said missing the tournament for the first time since he arrived at Southern is going to motivate him and the team.
“I don’t like ending my season early,” McLeod said. “That just kind of added fuel to the fire. We’re just going to be playing a lot more different. A lot more fire and energy that we had last year and just hopefully everybody can stay healthy so we can make a good run at it.”
In addition to McLeod, fourth-year head coach Scott Burrell added two guard transfers from Division I schools, senior Kealen Ives from Rider and sophomore C.J. Seaforth from Iona. Burrell said he expects Ives and Seaforth to bring in leadership and toughness.
“Both of those guys didn’t have the opportunity they thought at the Division I level to play,” Burrell said. “Hopefully they come here hungry and want to win championships. So far they’ve done a great job with our team.”
Burrell said being from a Division I school and transferring to a Division II school can help and hurt players because some players think it is going to be easier.
“They’ve played against some of the best competition at any level you could ask for,” Burrell said. “They’ll hopefully be prepared mentally and physically and when the time comes for them to shine, each one will do their job.”
McLeod said because the team did not have many guards last year, Ives and Seaforth also add depth that the team was lacking.
“Them two coming takes a lot more stress off of the guards we had last year because we were playing a lot more,” McLeod said. “They’re both two talented skilled guards and they both understand the game pretty well. It just brings more intelligence to the game for us.”
Burrell said because of the incoming talent as this year, McLeod, who averaged over 20 points per game last year, can have an even better season this year.
“You can’t expect more than to get 20 a game,” Burrell said. “Twenty is a lot of points per game right there. But he’s an unselfish player and he’ll be even better because we’ll have more help. That’ll make his job easier.”
In addition to Ives and Seaforth, Burrell also added Issac Grant, a junior forward from Queens College, and Isaiah Boissard, a junior guard from Western Texas College. Burrell said Grant, who averaged 10 points per game and 5.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore, also gives the team more depth in the front court.
“He’s big, strong, physical, and a tough guy,” Burrell said. “I think we need extra bodies on the front court and I think he gives us that toughness that we might lack at times. We need that rebound, he’ll go get it.”
Burrell said even though Boissard has battled injuries in the preseason, “he is athletic and has a good IQ.”
Four freshmen also join this year’s team; guards William Antrum, Mekhi Warren, Michael Mozzicato, and forward Zack Penn, all from high schools in Connecticut. Burrell said he expects all four of them to help the team in some way.
“It might not be scoring but they’ll all give us some impact,” Burrell said. “In practice they’ll get better and they’ll make us better. I think all those guys will have an impact one way or another during a game this year.”
Coleman, who won the NE10 Rookie of the Year last season, said all of the incoming transfers compliment everyone else on the team and “play off of each other really well.”
“I think that’s just going to make us all shine brighter,” Coleman said. “I think it’s just going to be an opportunity for all of us to show how much we can do as a team and as a unit. We have a lot of talent, we just have to make it all work together, and we will.”
Coleman said he is just concerned about winning this year instead of trying to follow focusing on any awards. He said he knew the team was “going to get a lot of pieces this year” and knew he had to be prepared for “a new task at hand.”
“I’m just worried about making the NCAA Tournament,” Coleman said. “I think we have enough talent to really make a deep run.”
Burrell said Coleman “worked on his game all summer” and is “going to get better and better” every year while always adding something different each season.
“He’s going to drive to the hole a little bit more, pull up jumpers a little bit more,” Burrell said. “I think he’s a great player for us. He makes shots.”
Joey Wallace, a former All-Rookie selection in the NE10, suffered a season- ending injury last year after playing in just three games. This year, however, Burrell said Wallace “won’t be with us for the first semester.”
“He has some things he has to take care of,” Burrell said. “He’ll be back in the second semester.”
Burrell said as the Owls as prepared for the season, the team as had a lot of injuries. He said the injuries has kept the team back from “gelling” during practice.
“Couple of sprained ankles, one sprained knee, one sprained wrist, so a couple a thing’s that’s hurt us with our chemistry,” Burrell said. “When those guys get back, we’ll be deeper, we’ll be tougher, and we’ll be even better.”
He said the key for college basketball team is health because teams are limited to scholarship players. He said if the team is healthy, “good things will happen” but the team still must find ways to win even with injuries.
In an exhibition game, the Owls scrimmaged UConn at Gampel Pavilion on Nov. 2. The Owls held a 17-11 lead and were tied at 26 during the first half before UConn won 96-64.
McLeod said by playing a Division I school, he learned “you’re going to have spurts where you’re on and spurts where you’re off” but the team that battles more is going to win.
“There were times where we felt like we were in control of that game and there were times where we started to breakdown and there were in control of the game,” McLeod said. “We just need to work on making sure we’re controlling the game for the whole 40 minutes and playing at our speed and what we want to do.”
Burrell said he wants the team to be more consistent this year as compared to last year. Last year, the Owls started off 0-3, eventually got over .500 before falling to 7-9, then won nine of their last 12 games of the year.
“We started off slow last year, hit a good rhythm in the middle of the year, but I want a good rhythm throughout the whole season,” Burrell said. “A good rhythm that you build on wins. Even in games if you don’t play great, you learn from it and everyday get better.”
The Owls opened their regular season playing in the UB Conference Crossover Classic with games on Nov. 10-11. The Owls lost to Post University 103-102 on Saturday and University of the Sciences 69-67 on Sunday.
Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications