Finding the Winning Formula

Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.
Photo by Robin Weinstein.

After four consecutive non-conference losses, the Men’s Basketball team began SUNYAC play last weekend with a split record of 1-1.

The Hawks defeated SUNY Fredonia on the road 72-67 on Dec. 6 before dropping a 109-99 contest to Buffalo State.

“I think right now we’re in a much better spot,” Head Coach Mike Rejniak said.

Rejniak said with three games in six days upon the team’s return from a non-conference tournament in California, the morale of the Hawks’ 2-0 start to their season wasn’t enough to keep the momentum going, leading to losses against Vassar College, Delaware Valley College, Mount Saint Mary College and Eastern Connecticut State.

“The wins in Cali got to our heads a little bit,” second-year guard Keegan Donovan said. “We came back positive, but we let games slip that we all felt we should have won.”

Donovan said these “shortcomings” were a wakeup call to the team going into conference play and let them know the journey to the conference tournament would not be easy.

“We really didn’t have time to gain traction and correct a lot of things when we got back from California,” Rejniak said.

Rejniak said the team was banged up by the string of losses, both physically and mentally, and he needed to make some changes going into their first weekend of conference play.

“Friday and Saturday we made some switches to the lineup and solved a lot of the puzzle of trying to figure out our identity as a team,” Rejniak said. “These changes worked and helped us get a little bit of our morale back.”

Rejniak said that last weekend’s conference performances provided the confidence the team needed, and said immediate reinforcement of success is important for a young team like the Hawks to solidify to them they are capable of playing at a high level.

“You take Kewan Beebe. One of his strengths is his shooting ability,” Rejniak said of the first-year guard.  “He’s a great shooter, but he started off the year 0-10 for shots. It just took him to hit that first one on Friday and all of a sudden he had his swag back.”

Rejniak said that progression exemplifies the team as a whole, who went from scoring 61 or less points during their sequential losses to putting up 99 points against Buffalo State.

“We just have to work on scoring the ball more,” Beebe said. “Last two games we had 99 and 72 points and we need those sort of high scoring games and to be consistent with it.”

First-year guard and forward Derrick Ansah agreed, he said.

“Overall consistency is our problem,” Ansah said. “That’s partially because we’re a young team. It might take most of the season to get it down, but once we get there we’ll be OK.”

Rejniak said although there is less experience on the team than previous years, it is compensated by the talent the Hawks possess across the board, with any player capable of coming off the bench any night and putting up double digits.

“We’re quick and we’re versatile,” Rejniak said. “Saturday, Taylor (Sowah, third-year Captain) had 26 (points) and Donovan had 19. On Friday we had Zach (Cone-Douglas, second-year guard) coming off the bench with 10, Nick Taldi [graduate student captain] coming off with 15. It makes us a lot tougher to scout and pinpoint who to stop.”

Looking forward, Rejniak said the remainder of SUNYAC play will be a “dogfight,” with no specific standout top tier teams this season.

“Plattsburgh didn’t graduate any players last year, they made it to the NCAA Tournament last year and are always at the top of the conference,” Donovan said. “They will be tough competition along with Cortland, who are 4-1 so far this season and are also always at the top of the conference.”

With the adversity the team has faced thus far this season and the continued tough competition they expect to encounter against their conference opponents, Ansah said the team remains confident they can come out on top.

“That’s the game of basketball,” Ansah said. “You might go through slumps that seem like forever, but you bounce back. We got over our scoring slump with Fredonia and we lost a tough one to Buffalo State. But we will definitely make it to the SUNYAC Tournament if we continue to improve day in and day out.”

The Hawks will take on Hamilton College Jan. 4 in Clinton, NY before returning to the Hawk Center Jan. 7 to continue SUNYAC play with a matchup against SUNY Cortland.