The men's basketball team remains undefeated at 5-0 after the season's opening weeks, coming off a 81-78 win against Alfred University, an 88-63 win against Misericordia University and an 89-65 victory over SUNY Morrisville. After the wins against Alfred and Misericordia, the Knights were crowned champions of the McCarthy Tire Laurel Line Tournament on Nov. 21, with junior guard Justin Ringen taking Most Valuable Player honors. The victory over conference affiliate opponent Morrisville was the team's first home game of the season.
What is most impressive about the team's torrid start is that the two most recent wins—both blowouts—were accomplished largely without junior guard and leading scorer John Decker. Playing just 18 minutes against Misericordia and sitting out against Morrisville due to the flu, Decker scored a combined 68 points in the Knights' first two games.
Head coach Steve Minton noted that while not having Ringen on the court could have been problematic, the rest of the players stepped up to the challenge. “That was a little nerve-wracking. But Justin [Ringen] has played well all year and he's a tough match up for people because he can score inside or outside,” he said. “[Sophomore guard] Kevin Crockett stepped up also. We've got several different guys that are capable of stepping up.”
Ringen is now averaging 22 points and six rebounds per game with 49.2 percent shooting from the field and 48.1 percent shooting from three-point range. He has carved out a role as one of the team's top performers, as his size allows him to battle inside the paint while his shooting stroke makes him a threat from beyond the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Crockett is averaging 12.5 points per game with 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range. Already, 22 of Crockett's 35 total field-goal attempts through four games have been threes.
Last season, the Knights were able to base their success on size. But with the graduation of 2014-15 All-American forward Gordon Lyons ‘15, Minton's team has adapted by embracing a faster pace as well as more constant three-point shooting. The Knights are currently taking 24 threes per game and are connecting on those at an astounding 41.7 percent rate. Additionally, crisp passing has led to offensive success for the past few outings.
“Before, we were trying to fit the square peg into the round hole,” Minton said. “Now, we've completed passes a lot better and tried not to always make the perfect pass."
Despite the team's collective penchant for perimeter shooting, the size has not disappeared. So far, the Knights are outrebounding opponents by an average of over 11 boards per game—a striking disparity. Senior forward Nick Fessenden and freshman forward Jack Manke are to credit for that, but so are guards such as Decker and sophomore Charlie Zaepfel.
“What I feel the best about is not just what Nick [Fessenden] and Jack [Manke] have done, but also that Charlie [Zaepfel] and John [Decker] are both averaging five rebounds per game,” Minton said. "There's a couple long rebounds here and there, but there's been a lot of times in these four games where I've seen John [Decker] and Charlie [Zaepfel] both go up and grab it.”
On the road again, the Knights play their next game against Nazareth College on Wednesday Dec. 2. With everything working out well so far, the coaches feel confident sticking with the game plan.
"The only changes we will make will be subtle and scouting-dependent," Minton said.