December 5, 2013
A common theme among Hamilton fall sports squads has been an increased level of comfort as teams entered their second NESCAC campaign. Consequently, though Hamilton is still establishing a foothold among the traditional conference powerhouses, the teams have started to see tangible results as a reward of their increased competitiveness.
Judging by the early season results, the men’s basketball team seems headed on this same trajectory, with a 4-2 record thus far that includes a runner-up finish in the Hamilton Invitational. The Continentals handled D’Youville College 90-58 in the first game of the Hamilton Invitational, before falling to Widener College in a seesaw 83-89 overtime decision. Hamilton followed up this close loss, however, with an impressive 85-69 win over Manhattansville on Nov. 30.
Leading the charge is top scorer Matt Hart ’16, who has sidestepped the dreaded sophomore slump to establish himself as one of the conference’s top threats. Hart, who finished sixth in the NESCAC with 15.3 points per game last year, has upped that mark to 19.0. More impressively, he has sustained his efficiency by shooting 45.8 percent from the field and an above-average 38.2 percent from three-point range. Hart acknowledged that opposing teams are starting to catch on, and he has worked hard to stay ahead of the curve.
“Going back to the end of last season and the start of this season, I feel like teams have been game-planning for me a lot more and trying to keep the ball out of my hands,” he admitted. “I think the biggest change for me this year is that I’m a lot stronger and I feel more comfortable in the position I’m in.”
However, Hart’s impressive scoring totals are only a fraction of the equation in the Continentals’ overall success thus far this season. Fellow starting guard Greg Newton ’14 and forward Bradley Gifford ’15 have taken decisive steps forward in expanded roles. Newton leads the team in assists with 3.8 dimes per game and is the second-leading scorer, while Gifford has vacuumed up the glass with 8.7 rebounds per game. Both starred throughout the Hamilton Invitational, with Gifford shaking off an injury to provide 15 points in the finals, and Gifford posting a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double effort in the semifinal win.
For Gifford, an offseason of preparation has paved the way for tremendous improvement, as the junior has nearly doubled his scoring, rebounding and assist averages from last season. “I aimed to lose about 20 pounds between the end of last spring and the start of the fall semester but ended up pushing so hard that I lost almost 40 pounds,” says Gifford. “I’d have to say that all of my success so far this year is the product of just being in better physical condition. Coach made it clear to me that my role was going to change dramatically so I wanted to be prepared to handle whatever the team was going to need me to do.”
Newton was a starter last season, but as one of just two seniors, along with forward Matt Dean, there is an added leadership role to his position and the 2013-2014 year.
“There is certainly some added pressure,” he admitted, “but it comes with the territory of being an upperclassmen and trying to ensure that this team has a big year. Matt and I have changed our whole approach on and off the court this year and the rest of the team has really bought into what we’re trying to do. I think that’s a great sign moving forward.”
Indeed, all three have asserted that this year’s team has returned focused and ready to hit the ground running. Areas for improvement include focused on improving a new offensive system and finishing defensive possessions. It’s too early to draw any definitive long-term conclusions as to how that focus might translate into on-court success, but the consistency is there so far. Putting together full-game efforts is a problem that has plagued numerous Hamilton teams in recent years, and apart from the second half in a loss to Keystone College, the Continentals have been competitive in every half through six games. If that trend continues as NESCAC conference play resumes in January, men’s basketball might become Hamilton’s newest breakout squad.
The team will play its final home game of the semester against Morrisville State on Dec. 10 before travelling to Rochester on Dec. 11. During winter vacation they will compete in the Knee Center Holiday Tournament at Medaille College in Buffalo. They resume NESCAC play on Jan. 10 at Amherst.