Christmas break allows students a chance to regroup after a grueling semester. Students are rewarded with relaxation and quality time with family members. However, not all students have this luxury, particularly those on the men’s basketball team.
The men’s basketball team grinded day-in and day-out throughout the break trying to gain momentum after a difficult first half of their season.
The trek to break was not easy. The Penmen suffered losses to Stonehill and 14th ranked Bentley. After these losses, there was intense pressure to win their final home game of 2018 against in-state rival Franklin Pierce.
“A big part of our philosophy is playing hard, and being disciplined; it’s simple things that we talk about every single day,” said head coach Jack Perri. “We just didn’t play with the toughness needed to play on the road, and Stonehill took it to us, so we watched the films, and what you saw against Franklin Pierce was a much more focused team.”
Being focused payed off. The Penmen would jump to a 12-point lead at half-time against Franklin Pierce, and despite a brief comeback by the Ravens to bring the score to 74-71, Dae-Dae Andrews scored a three-pointer to tie the game.
After a two-week break, the team played three games before the school year began, with the first two on the road against Felician and Pace on December 30th and January 9th, respectively. SNHU won both games, 87-85 against Felician and 81-78 against Pace, securing the first road winning streak under coach Jack Perri.
“It’s always hard to win on the road,” Perri commented. “And they did a really good job staying focused. I thought right off the bat we had a sense of urgency to the way we were acting and playing against teams that were playing so well. It was really impressive for our guys.”
The third and final game before school was back in session was against Southern Connecticut. This was their first meeting since last year’s opening round of the NE10 Championships where Southern Connecticut beat the Penmen 76-74.
Prior to the game, Southern Connecticut won eight games in a row, and averaged over 80 points per game. It was not easy for the Penmen, as they were entering the game as underdogs. However, the Penmen came up big in their most hard-fought battle yet. After regulation, the game was tied 71-71 and would go into double overtime, with the Penmen down by 5 in each extra session. With just ninety seconds to go, the Penmen fought to tie the score in the first extra session. SNHU went on to win 88-86.
The win over Southern Connecticut was the Penmen’s biggest win of the season, but it nearly came with a big cost. Early into the second quarter, senior Charlie Russo went down with what appeared to be a serious leg injury, and was helped off the field. While Russo recovered in time for the team’s first match of the spring semester against Saint. Rose, the loss would have been a major blow for the team.
“All guys that play major minutes are huge parts of our team,” coach Perri commented on the potential loss of Russo. “And anybody that goes down is a loss for us. But our whole mindset is, ‘okay next man up,’ and hopefully someone else on the team would be able to step in and help continue our success we’ve had recently.”
In spite of the Penmen’s success, the road ahead to the Championship may be a long and bumpy ride. SNHU is in fourth place in the NE10 conference, with just nine games remaining in the regular season, and five games on the road. They hold a 10-7 overall record and a 6-6 conference record. The men’s team has not had a winning record on the road since the 2015 season, and with a 3-4 record anything is possible, but for coach Perri and the Penmen, it’s not all about the future.
“The reality is we just prepare for the game coming up,” said Perri. “I tell our guys not to worry about what the end game is, just worry about today, and getting better each and every day whether it’s practice or our next game, and focus on that.”
The Penmen return to action Saturday, February 9, against Stonehill at the Stan Spirou Fieldhouse.