Men’s Basketball Breaks Nine-Year Drought, Advances to Conference Playoffs

Photo courtesy of Ursinus Communications

The Bears entered the CC postseason tournament as the fifth seed. They were knocked out by Swarthmore in the semi-finals.

Andrew Simoncini

January 12th is a day senior point guard Matt Knowles will never forget.

Although Knowles is averaging a team high 16.3 points per game and shooting better than 36 percent from beyond the arc, his epic story had a roadblock before he became a hero.

“I tore my ACL in my right knee during my junior year of high school, and on the exact same day last year, I tore the ACL in my left knee,” said Knowles.  “I knew that by the second or third week of practice it wouldn’t be an issue and I’d be ready to roll.”

After Knowles was out with the injury last year, the team finished 5-7 in its last 12 games and finished 7th in the conference—missing out on the playoffs for the 8th straight year.

Now, thanks to a healthy Knowles and a great supporting cast of veterans and young talent, the Bears basketball team is back in the Centennial Conference playoffs for the first time in nine years.

The top five teams in the conference make the playoffs, with the 4th and 5th seeded teams having to participate in a play-in game to get into the field of four.

Part of the success the Bears have seen this season can be attributed to the camaraderie of the team, particularly how well they have learned to play together.

“We’ve kind of had the same group for a really long time. This is the third year of really our main core [of] guys,” said Knowles.  “I may be trying to be a senior leader, but we [have] always [had] guys like Joe [LoStracco], Raff [Brian Rafferty], and Remi [Janicot] who [have been] playing huge minutes for three years, so they have a big leadership role as well.”

Not only have the upperclassmen leadership and play been great for the Bears this season, but a number of younger guys have stepped up and borne a bigger load this season—a task at  which they excelled.

Eric Williams Jr., a sophomore guard for the Bears, is putting up 13 points per game while hitting 44 percent from the field and 43 percent from beyond the arc. Junior transfer forward Zach Quattro is averaging 12.7 points per game while making 47.9 percent of his shots from the field and 45.1 percent from beyond the arc—arguably the most impressive stats out of any player on the team.

However, it hasn’t been all fun and games for the playoff-bound Bears. They have been working at their goal since the first week of classes.

“This year we started the first Wednesday we got back with lifts at 7 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and then we played pick-up five days a week in the afternoon, getting everybody used to playing with each other,” said junior forward Joseph LoStracco.

Coming into college, first-year players often get intimidated, especially while making the transition from high school to college. This year, the older players wanted the team camaraderie to be better than it’s ever been. They wanted it to feel more like a family than a team, so they got together over the summer on the weekends to practice and spend time with each other.

“A couple weekends in the summer we played with the new freshmen and hung out with them just to get to know them a little bit. I think that was a really good thing for us,” said Knowles. “We picked two or three weekends where every guy who lives in the states was there. We’d play Saturday and Sunday, and then on Saturday we’d go to someone’s house and go swimming, hang out, and have a Saturday night.”

Consistency has been key for the Bears this season. They have only lost consecutive games twice all year and have kept it close in every game until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter.  Their 15-11 overall is a great improvement from going 11-14 last season.

As the playoff picture is unfolding, the Bears traveled to Baltimore on Feb. 22 and defeated the 4th seed Blue Jays of Johns Hopkins 78-64. This advanced the Bears to the semi-final round against the Garnet of Swarthmore College. Here the Bears put up a valiant effort but ultimately fell to the Garnet 86- 66 ending the Bear’s playoff run. On the year, Ursinus finished with a record of 15-12 and fourth overall in the Centennial Conference.

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