February 14, 2014
Every college team has varying degrees of talent, but a winning team is defined by its growth. Playing upwards of 25 games, virtually every team will experience inevitable ebbs and flows, and those that rebound from adversity are the squads that succeed.
The Hamilton men’s and women’s basketball teams have exhibited that vital maturity, and find themselves in prime positions to secure playoff berths. Playing their final two home games over senior weekend (Feb. 7-8), the men squeaked by Tufts 71-69 and trounced Bates 88-64, while the women bounced back from a 31-point loss to the fourth-ranked Jumbos to crush the Bobcats 82-62. As a result, the women have clinched their first NESCAC playoff appearance, while a single win in either of their final two games will earn the men the same honor.
In the latter case, the men have set their goals even higher. After four losses in six games over winter break threatened to derail the team’s early-season promise, the Continentals have roared back to rip off four consecutive wins, and now sit one game back of hosting a home playoff game as the fourth seed. As leading scorer Matt Hart ’16 notes, the up-tempo offensively oriented squad has found success by buckling down on the other end of the floor.
“The reason we are playing so well right now is all because of our defense,” asserted Hart. “Yes, we have been scoring a lot lately, but it has been our solid defense that has allowed us to get the shots we want on offense. I think if we keep playing like this, we will be a hard team to beat down the stretch of the season.”
The numbers back up Hart’s sentiment. During the four-game winning streak, the Conts have held all opponents under 80 points, after allowing over 80 in the three previous games. Over the weekend, Tufts and Bates both shot under 40 percent from the field, and combined to hit just 13 threes.
Ajani Santos ’16, who scored a career-high 14 points against the Jumbos, believes an increased focus has led to better results. “I think our team as a whole has become more confident lately,” said the sophomore center. “I’ve noticed we have been more focused with our play and what we can do to win. We have bought into our playing style and will not allow ourselves to become rattled by anything or anyone else…I do believe this team is getting better everyday and at the end of the day it’s great to see the outcome in our favor.”
Like the men, the women’s team is also reaping the fruits of their labor. The Continentals have won three of four contests after dropping six of the previous seven. The streak has Hamilton up to seventh place in the conference standings, and the team will finish the regular season seeded somewhere between sixth and eighth.
Guard Adrianna Pulford ’15, who chipped in 10 points, 14 rebounds and four assists over the weekend, attributed the turnaround to a focus on subtler nuances of the game. “Coming off of the loss to SUNY IT, we knew we needed to make a change,” said Pulford. “In order to reverse the trend, we increased the intensity and focus in practice. Help-side defense and rotations were the focal point. I think our improved energy in practice…has propelled us to win three of the last four games.”
Indeed, stifling second-half defense fueled Hamilton’s 20-point win over Bates last Saturday. The game went into the half as five-point contest, but the Conts held the Bobcats to just 36.7 percent shooting from the field after the intermission. Moreover, Hamilton’s swarming defense forced eight second-half turnovers, allowing them to embark on a 14-1 run that effectively sealed the game.
Co-captain Dani Feigin ’14, who poured in a game-high 25 points against Bates, echoes the notion that more intense, goal-oriented practices have manifested themselves into wins. “Our team has really come together and worked extremely hard in practice,” said Feigin. “We’ve been motivated by certain goals that we set earlier in the season. One of those goals was to make playoffs and we have accomplished that. But we aren’t stopping there…We know we can compete and that we-can-win mindset has been present as we have moved deeper into the season.”
With the results finally matching the talent and effort, both teams are resetting their expectations. Hart stated that the team’s goal was to host a first-round playoff game, which he noted “is well within our reach.” Similarly, Pulford believes “execution of the keys we have been focusing on all year” will allow the ladies to make noise as postseason underdogs.
Both squads end their seasons with road games at Wesleyan on Feb. 14 and Connecticut College on Feb. 15. Starting this weekend, the Continental basketball teams have a golden opportunity to change the narrative surrounding Hamilton’s place in the NESCAC.