Bears start title defense run on the right note
Rout opponent MacMurray 88-53 in season opener
The defending champion men’s basketball team backed up its No. 1 preseason ranking by routing MacMurray College 88-53 in the season opener at the Field House on Sunday.
“It’s always good to get that first win under your belt,” said co-captain Sean Wallis, a graduate student. “We went out, we played hard, and we did a great job defensively, not letting them do what they wanted to do.”
Head coach Mark Edwards said, “We got out and competed. At times, we executed very well. We didn’t make a lot of first-game mistakes, which I was pleased with.”
Senior co-captain Aaron Thompson led the team with 24 points to complement Wallis’ nine assists.
“When you have two All-American guards that everyone is keying on, it’s pretty important that they are able to handle [the outside game],” Edwards said. “Aaron missed his first three three-pointers, and then he hit four in a row, so it didn’t seem to bother him too much.”
The team largely attributed their strong start to familiarity among the same group of players. Wallis, Thompson and fellow co-captains Cameron Smith and Zach Kelly are all returning starters who have played together for the past four years.
“With repetition, you start to know where people like to get the ball and where they are going to be when you make a certain cut,” Thompson said. “With that experience, it really helps.”
Junior Caleb Knepper, the only starter who did not start last season, stepped into his new role nicely, putting up eight points and grabbing a career-high eight rebounds.
“I think he did a good job,” Edwards said. “He took smart shots, good shots and got rebounds. That’s what we need from him.”
Despite a strong showing in the home opener, the squad was quick to critique their performance and talk about the areas they need to work on as the season progresses.
“We had a lot of good open shots that we missed, but that’s basketball,” Edwards said. “What you miss on one end, you have to make up for on the other end on defense, and that’s what we did.”
Nevertheless, the Bears took a lot of positives away from the win, and they expect to build on this performance for the coming weeks.
“Getting all 10 guys that we want in our rotation on the floor and playing with those rotations really helps,” Thompson said. “It is really going to give us confidence going forward, which is huge.”
The Bears take on Ohio Wesleyan University at the Titan Tip-Off Tournament next Saturday, Nov. 21, in Bloomington, Ill.
“Looking forward, there is definitely room for improvement, but it’s a good way to start,” Wallis said.