It was a very busy break for the Colorado College men’s basketball team. The team played eight games, winning half, and ended on a positive note. The Tigers are definitely not slowing down now that break is over.
On Dec. 28, CC competed against Clark University in the D3Hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the Tigers lost 64-71. After a tough game, Clark University claimed the lead with 14 points in the final eight minutes. But the Tigers came back two days later to score a victory against Willamette University. It was a close game; the Tigers battled back to erase a score deficit in the final few minutes and then, in a heart-racing three point play, senior guard Ryan Kell scored with just six seconds remaining, securing the 67-65 win.
With the start of the New Year came CC’s SCAC opener in Shreveport, Louisana. On Jan. 2, the Tigers defeated Centenary College. The game featured another crucial three point play, this time by senior forward Chris Lesnansky. He scored the three-pointer that sent the game into overtime. Only 15 seconds into the overtime, Lesnansky scored a layup that put CC in the lead, where they remained until the final 83-76 victory.
The next day, Centenary College came back to beat the Tigers 64-52. Throughout the game, the Tigers fought to reduce the point deficit but were ultimately unable to grab the lead. Despite the loss, one Tiger, junior forward Tyler Jonas, received the first double-double of his career with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
After the two games against Centenary, the Tigers traveled to Texas to play against Southwestern University and Texas Lutheran University. On Jan. 9, the game against Southwestern started out rough for the Tigers. Southwestern outscored CC 20-2 in the opening 6:07. The Tigers were never able to make it back from such a major deficit and Southwestern won 81-68.
The next day against Texas Lutheran did not go much better for the Tigers. However, it was a much closer game. At one point in the first half, the Tigers were only two points away from the lead. But Texas Lutheran held on tightly to their lead and eventually won 74-59. However, this short, three-game losing streak didn’t last once the Tigers were back on their home court.
Freshman guard Eric Houska shares how the team turned it around: “After the losses we had a couple of very tough practices and knew that if we didn’t grow up as a team and turn things around our post-season hopes would be gone before we even got there. We hadn’t played a complete team game in a while, and with the help of one of our captains [returning], we were able to put together a full game against Austin. We played much more together and communicated a lot on both sides of the floor. We got back to playing the type of basketball we love.”
On Jan. 16, the Tigers were back in Reid Arena to play against Austin College. The game was also the return of junior guard Justin Berardino after a ten-game absence. Berardino led the team with 14 points. He scored seven of those points during the first seven minutes of the game. CC claimed an early 21-6 lead. Austin tried to comeback in the second half, scoring eight straight points but it wasn’t enough to challenge CC’s solid lead.
CC won 90-65. It was a great welcome back to Berardino. “I’m thankful to finally be back on the court. We had good execution to break our losing streak. It felt good to help break the losing streak, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates such as Joe Howard and Chris Martin pushing me in practice every day,” said Berardino.
Two days later, the Tigers won again at home against University of Dallas. Lesnansky made a game-high 21 points which is his fifth time reaching the 20-point mark this season. The first half of the game remained very close but then in the second half, CC built up a lead of 55-41. Dallas tried to make a comeback with an 11-2 run on scoring, pulling within five points of the Tigers. In the end, Dallas couldn’t overcome the Tigers’ lead and the Tigers won 65-58.
After winter break, the Tigers traveled to Denver to play against Johnson & Wales University. The game came down to the final 12 minutes. JWU was leading 57-56 when CC scored eight in a row to claim a 64-57 lead. JWU fought back, reducing their deficit to three, but CC went on another run, scoring 10-3, which gave CC a ten-point lead with just 3:57 left in the game. Once again, JWU trimmed down the lead but in the final 2:55, and the Tigers made four of five shots from the floor and five of six free throws to secure their win with a score of 61-57.
The team is not content with their mixed results over winter break. Junior guard/forward Luke Winfield said, “During our winter break stretch, we felt we really underachieved. Despite being plagued with injuries, we have enough depth this year to compensate for that, so not being able to sweep our games this break was tough to swallow. Finally having some home games this past weekend was huge in terms of momentum heading into our next stretch of road games.”