While many Colorado College students were breaking wishbones and enjoying their Thanksgiving holiday the men’s basketball team was on campus vying for a title at the CC Thanksgiving Invitational. The Tigers fell shy of expectations finishing second in the four-team tournament. The Tigers went 1-1 on the weekend recording a win against Northwestern University and a tight loss at the hands of the University of Dubuque.
On Friday, Nov. 28, Head Coach Andy Partee’s squad put together a complete game against Northwestern and prevailed by a score of 70-61. On Saturday, Nov. 29, the Tigers fell 68-77 in a hotly contested championship game against Dubuque University.
Leading into the Thanksgiving Invitational the team had to deal with a rash of injuries to crucial players. The injury list for the Tigers included four key starters: junior G and captain Justin Berardino (thumb), junior F James Lonergan (thumb), junior F Luke Winfield (ankle), and junior F Tyler Jonas (ankle).
“Everybody sort of stepped up and fill another role to do something they haven’t done before,” Senior F Chris Lesnansky said.
Lesnansky filled a rather familiar role for the Tigers in the tournament providing a consistent scoring presence. Lesnansky poured in 16 points against Northwestern and added 14 against Dubuque.
With key players out the Tigers looked to their younger, newer members to fill the void. Luckily, the Tigers are equipped this season with a strong freshman class. Partee cited F Andrew Maddock as a bright spot.
“He’s got a load of talent. Likely he can be a guy that will replace the production of Chris Lesnansky. He’s got great versatility inside and can shoot well from the perimeter.”
Along with Maddock, Partee had praise for freshman F Chris Martin.
“He’s got great athleticism, which is something we simply can’t teach,” said Partee.
Partee also sees freshmen G/F Ryan Young and G Bobby Roth filling important roles for the Tigers this year.
In terms of making an immediate impact freshman Eric Houska has provided a consistent floor presence for the Tigers. Houska logged 33 and 37 minutes against Northwestern and Dubuque, respectively.
“Eric has stepped in and hit the ground running as if he’s been in the program for a couple years,” said Partee.
Emerging from the CC Invite, The Tigers are in the midst of finding their identity for the 2014-15 season. “We’ve certainly augmented our identity from who we were last year,” said Partee. The Thanksgiving Invite provided a testing ground of sorts for the new-look Tigers.
Along with incorporating young, raw talent, the Tigers are making changes on the defensive end. Last year, the Tigers employed a standard half-court man defense. This year however, Partee elected to employ a more aggressive full-court pressure scheme. The Tigers alternate between a man-to-man run and jump press and a 1-2-1-1 zone trap.
Despite dropping the championship game to Dubuque, Partee’s squad scored 31 points off of turnovers in the game, a testament to tenacious full-court defense. Combined, against Northwestern and Dubuque the Tiger’s pressure forced their opponents into 41 total turnovers. The Tigers emerged from the weekend with a +24 turnover margin.
Partee sees distinct advantages to employing the full-court pressure with his athletic and altitude-hardened squad.
“As we make mistakes on the offensive side of the ball, we’re also creating turnovers,” said Partee, “We don’t have to be so perfect. Whatever mistakes we make in the front court, we’re making up for it already.”
Partee will be faced with a unique challenge upon the return of the bevy of injured players.
“They’re going to have to find their way back into the team identity that develops while they are gone,” said Partee. Partee assured that nothing will be handed to the returning players.
“My philosophy has always been to put the best five guys on the court at any given time regardless of class or age,” said Partee.
Next on the slate for the Tigers is a return to action against Johnson and Wales University in the friendly confines of El Pomar Gymnasium on Dec. 16.