Returning the entire starting five and nine lettterwinners from a team that just missed out on a NESCAC playoff spot, the Wesleyan men’s basketball team is expected to be a contender in the NESCAC this season. The Cardinals went 9-6 last season versus non-conference opponents but recorded a disappointing 2-7 mark in conference competition. To put a further damper on the 2010-2011 campaign Wesleyan was unable to earn the final playoff berth on the final day of the regular season when Bowdoin defeated the team by one point. As disappointing as that season-ending defeat was, the Cardinals and Head Coach Joe Reilly look at it as a bump in the road on the way to hopefully greater heights.
Wesleyan returns 84 percent of its scoring and rebounding from a season ago. Leading the Cardinals will be second-team all-conference point guard and sophomore Shasha Brown. Brown ranked second in the NESCAC last season in PPG at 19.2 and is on his way to challenging the all-time Wesleyan scoring mark. “Shasha has great speed,” Joe Reilly said. “He loves the game and is always playing hard. He has succeeded the high expectations for him.” Senior forward Jason Mendall, junior forward Mike Callaghan and junior shooting guard Derick Beresford all averaged north of double-digit scoring a year ago. Forward Glen Thomas led the squad with a 7.9 RPG figure in his freshman year and looks to improve that number despite missing the final nine games due to injury. The team’s newcomers bring speed, depth and especially size as five members of the group stand 6-6 or taller.
Reilly demonstrated significant belief in his team improving. “Our depth is our greatest strength,” he stated. “We have talent in a lot of different places, and that internal competition will help us improve during the course of the year. Once a few of our main players soon return from injury, I think our players can meet the high expectations I have for them.”
Wesleyan started off the season with a bang by winning the Middletown Tip-Off Tournament held the weekend of November 18-19. In their season-opening contest the Cardinals easily defeated Bard College 86-53. The team received balanced contributions in both the scoring department and on the boards, as 14 different players scored and Wesleyan enjoyed a 40-19 advantage on the boards. In the championship game against Curry the squad continued to show strong depth along with impressive toughness. After a back-and forth first half Wesleyan broke away from a 48-48 tie with 14:40 left, staging a 24-5 run over the span of 8:15 to capture the title. Sasha Brown scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the half and had eight assists to earn tournament MVP. Glen Thomas racked up 20 points and a team-leading 12 rebounds for his first career double-double, as the Cardinals again enjoyed a large rebounding advantage.
Up next for the team was a trip to Williams to face off against the Little Ephs on Tuesday, November 22. Williams pushed their lead to as much as 17 midway through the opening period and although Wesleyan tightened the deficit at some points, the game never became really competitive. Besides Brown, who scored 25 points, none of the Cardinals were significant contributors on offense. Wesleyan allowed Williams to shoot 56.5% from the floor.
After a short Thanksgiving break the squad returned to Silloway Gymnasium on Saturday and took down Baruch College 70-46 for the win, making their season record 3-1. Wesleyan looked to be in control in holding a 37-30 lead at intermission, but the Cardinals truly turned on the jets when the second half rolled around. Baruch was held without a field goal for the opening 11:15 as the home team went on a 22-3 run that made the rest of the contest a lark. Wesleyan’s speed and strength were much too much for Baruch on both offense and defense and denied them seemingly any open shot. Baruch made just three of 24 shots in the second half. Wesleyan enjoyed a 50-28 rebounding margin, including 19 boards to seven by the Bearcats.
“During that run to open the half we stepped up our defensive intensity,” Reilly said. “We limited them to one shot and kept them off the glass. It started with the defensive pressure today. If we get that consistently then it will led to points and success on the offensive end.”