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Men’s Basketball Off To Hot Start

Sean Lynch, Reporter

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The men’s basketball team is off to an impressive 4-1 start this season under head coach Willie Chandler.

Chandler is in his first full season as head coach after splitting last season as the interim head coach and then getting the full-time position last February by Athletic Director Coach Edkins.

After leading the team to a conference playoff appearance in his first season, it’s safe to say Coach Edkins made the right decision.

“I’ve been around the program, playing and coaching a combined 12 years now,” said Chandler.  “I knew Coach Edkins had faith in me that I could do the job.  Once we got ourselves in a position to be in the playoffs, I knew Chuck would give me the full-time position.”

Projected to finish second in the conference behind Desales, the Cougars  earned their first win in a double-overtime thriller against Susquehanna, who was ranked #25 in the nation. They are also coming off of a McCarthy Tire Laurel Line Tournament victory.

Chandler saaid the key to his team’s early success (if you can’t tell by the box scores) is the Cougars’ scoring output.  Although slightly skewed by two overtime games, the Cougars are averaging 98.0 points per game, good for 14th best in the nation, according to ncaa.com.

Leading the team’s scoring is the duo of Trey Fields and Jason Kenny.

Fields, a transfer 6’6″ swing man, is an offensive threat from all areas of the floor.  Averaging 18.4 points per game, Fields is shooting 47 percent from the field and just under 40 percent from three-point range.  What Fields bring to this team is size from the guard position, allowing him to post up on smaller defenders.

Coming off of a 2015-16 campaign that was full of accolades, including First Team MAC Freedom Selection and Rookie of the Year, Kenny was named an honorable mention to the DIII News Preseason All-America team, and he’s certainly making a case to be on the First-Team.

Kenny leads the Cougars in points (25.4) and free-throw percentage (.846).

Chandler saaid it was the switch from shooting guard to point guard that allowed the 6’3 sophomore to increase his scoring.

“The switch to point guard freed him up because the defenders can’t be as physical with him,” said Chandler. “Playing off the ball, he was dealing with lot of contact from players trying to prevent him from getting open.  Now, he has more room to work.”

In addition to the position change, Chandler sees a new fire in Kenny that he didn’t have last year: emotion, which is something that he hopes will resonate with the rest of the team.

“Last year, no matter if there was a good or bad call or outcome to a game, he wouldn’t show emotion.  This year, he’s being more of a leader. He wants to win. I played with a lot of emotion, and that’s how I want the guys to play.  Don’t embarrass yourself by yelling at your teammates or at the ref. Just show emotion.  If you don’t have emotion, you’re not going to be a good player.”

In addition to Fields and Kenny, the unexpected wildcard of this team is first-year Tony Harding.  Averaging over 14 points per game, Harding is a threat from deep with a three point percentage at .455, which leads the team and his good for seventh in the MAC Freedom Conference.  In addition, Harding leads the Cougars and is fifth in the conference in field-goal percentage at .549.

“I knew Tony was going to be great. I recruited him in high school where he scored 30 points a game.  Even though he wasn’t on a great high school team, I knew it was going to be a steal if we got him. The thing with Tony is that in high school, it was just, ‘here’s the ball, go score 40 points tonight and hope we win the game’ whereas I’m coaching him hard, and he handles it well. He’ll have games where he’ll go scoreless against Summit and then scores 23 points in back-to-back games.  He is providing more than what I could ask for as a first year player.”

Although 98 points per game is something to be proud of, it can prove costly on the other end of the floor, where they allow 83 points per game, which is something Chandler said the team needs to improve upon.

“We’re such a good offensive team that we let our defense slide a bit.  When you score 100 points a game, no matter how good of a defensive team you are, you’re going to give up a lot of possessions to the other team.  Not a lot of people realize that when you score 100, you’re not going to hold the other team to 50 because when we shoot so many times, we allow them to shoot as many.”

Regardless of the defensive lapse, Chandler is impressed with his team’s start through five games.

“I was thinking that I’d be happy with a 1-1 or 2-2 start,” he said.  “The guys are playing great and I’m as happy as I can be.  I’m not satisfied though. I think we need to keep chugging along and practicing hard and the games will speak for themselves.”

Still over a month away from MAC Freedom action, the Cougars have a bad taste in their mouths from last year’s postseason defeat to Del Val. Mark January 14, 2017 in your calendars.

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Men’s Basketball Off To Hot Start