The EC men’s basketball team had high hopes on Saturday night as they matched up against the Wheaton College under (4-2). R.A. Faganel Hall was the setting, as the Bluejays (2-4) struggled with a shooting slump and dropped their CCIW opener, 82-69.
Wheaton set the tone early, jumping out to a 12-3 lead by the 16:45 mark of the first half. The Thunder did not trail outside the first minute of the game.
Forward Caleb Mowry led his Bluejay teammates once again, scoring 17 points and securing 3 rebounds in 22 minutes. e strong production leaves his season averages at 19.7 points and 9 rebounds per game.
Mowry is in the midst of a breakout performance in his final season in a Bluejay uniform. After spending three seasons in a reserve role, the senior has taken a significant step forward early on this season.
Mowry felt it was just an off day for the Bluejays.
“Honestly, I just think it might have been one of those days, you know? Our shots weren’t falling,” he said. “We are a really young team and it was our first conference game, so it’s a bit more pressure and whatnot.”
“I just think we are a young team. We’ll come around, I really think we will,” he added.
Mowry certainly has a valid point, as Bluejay shooters shot a mere 40.7 percent from the field, including 5-19 (26.3 per- cent) from 3-point range. Both figures were well below the Bluejay season averages of 49 percent on field goals and 34 percent from deep.
The slump saw a peak in the first half of play, during which the Bluejays could only convert 37.5 percent of their field goal attempts.
The Bluejays took their struggles with them to the charity stripe, posting a 48.5 percent free throw percentage on 33 attempts, well below the season average of 59 percent.
The young Bluejay shooters will need to grow up fast in order to compete during what is expected to be a grueling CCIW schedule this winter. EC will lean on its leaders, such as the aforementioned Mowry and fellow Seniors Jalen Loving and Nathan Rogers. However, underclassmen will need to step forward and contribute in order to lighten the load.
6’8’’ Freshman Devin Tennant could prove to be a factor in conference play after scoring 13 points during his first extended play time of the season. Tennant hit on 6 of his 7 attempts and added a pair of rebounds in addition to a pair of assists throughout his 18 minutes.
As he reflected on the loss, Mowry acknowledged that there were missed opportunities that could have helped turned the tide.
“We knew they were not a very good transition defense team, so we just could have pushed the ball a little bit harder and maybe put the press on a little bit earlier to turn the tempo up and speed them up a little bit,” he said.
The numbers certainly reflect that sentiment. Wheaton outscored the Bluejays following turnovers, with 23 points coming after takeaways versus 12 for EC.
Fast breaks were an issue throughout the game as Wheaton scored 12 points on the break while EC was shut out.
The lack of consistent points after takeaways proved quite costly late.
After entering the halftime intermission trailing by 14, the Bluejays scored a pair of baskets quickly and trimmed the Wheaton lead down to 10 points early in the second half. However, the next 5 consecutive Bluejay possessions ended with a turnover and Wheaton was able to capitalize, stretching their lead out to 18.
Combined with the lack of fast break scoring, the Bluejays offense became one dimensional and never seemed to find their timing, although they did outscore the under in the second half, 39-38.
Despite playing from behind for much of the game, the Bluejays showed their merit with the way they were able to compete for possession throughout the contest. EC out rebounded Wheaton 43-34 and held a respectable turnover differential with 17 takeaways versus 23 giveaways.
In addition to rebounding, the Bluejays also held a clear edge in points from their bench as EC reserves scored 32, a total only surpassed by the 36 point performance by the bench against Concordia-Chicago. Meanwhile, the Wheaton bench only scored 5 points.
While it failed to make a different versus Wheaton, sustained production from the bench would be a significant advantage throughout conference.
Looking forward, the Bluejays will head to Waukesha, Wisconsin on Wednesday, Dec. 7 for a 7 p.m. game against the Carroll University Pioneers.
The 4-1 Pioneers have been a stingy defensive team this season, allowing only 74 points per game.
Offensively, Carroll is led by junior Tanner Zaeske and senior Kyle Keranen. The duo averages a combined 36.2 points per game. The Bluejays will need to slow them down in order keep pace with the Pioneers.
This will be the first CCIW basketball matchup between EC and Carroll since the Pioneer’s return to the conference.