By Dan Harrison
---- — BEVERLY — The Endicott men’s and women’s basketball teams had similar starts to the season as both clubs won early and often heading into 2013.
With Nichols visiting MacDonald Gymnasium last night, the Gulls women held home court with a 63-41 win while the men fell 130-106. Looking ahead, the two Gulls teams are standing on very different ground.
At 4-0 in the Commonwealth Coast Conference and 8-3 overall, the women are talented, deep and most importantly healthy. The men meanwhile dropped to 7-4 overall, 2-2 in the CCC and are left treading water awaiting the returns of injured impact players Andre Makris, captain Lachlan Magee and captain Tyler Burkhart.
For the women, the key to the team’s early success has been defense. Last night was no different as the Gulls held Nichols to just 16 points in the first half.
“Defense is a huge focus for us day in and day out. We talk about active hands and active mouths all the time. We are trying to get opponents off of their game,” said coach Brittany Hutchinson. “We try to switch things up a lot and run some man, run some zone and press. Defensively that is our focus.”
Running the two-one-two full court press virtually the entire game, Endicott forced turnover after turnover and capitalized with easy buckets on the other end in transition.
“It was pretty good pressure from Endicott. They didn’t allow the ball to go through the middle which was tough for us. And we had a lot of stupid turnovers,” explained Nichols (4-6) cooach Alice Mullen. “They (Endicott) worked hard and they were active in it (the press) and it gave us a lot of trouble. “
Teams tend to take on the personality of their coaches and with the fiery Hutchinson on the bench it’s no wonder the Gulls play with a lot of intensity.
“Her (Hutchinson’s) enthusiasm truly does feed off to the rest of us,” explained junior captain Ashley Walenta, who had three steals in last night’s victory. “Our coach constantly stresses talk on defense, communicate and rely on the help. If you mess up you can recover as long as you have your hands up and are communicating with your teammates. That is something we really focus on and really try to improve on every single game and as the season goes on we’re holding teams to less and less points.”
The scoring has come from all over this year for the Gulls. Last night, it was forwards Samantha Crough (20 points) and Kayleen Whall (18 points) doing most of the damage. However, the team’s most consistent scorer is junior sharpshooter Jennifer White, averaging 13.8 points per game. White has welcomed her role as the team’s go-to shooter and lately, her confidence seems to be through the roof.
“She’s (White) just really jumped on board with my role for her as a shooter,” noted Hutchinson. “I want her to catch and shoot every time. Her confidence has risen in the last year. She has been tremendous.”
More than anything White has been reliable and her teammates definitely appreciate her ability to step up when it matters most: “When we need her, she is always there for us,” Walenta said.
Collectively the Gulls play with a lot of poise which may come as a surprise to the average onlooker considering the Endicott roster has just one senior on the team. But Jen McBrien has welcomed the responsibilities that come with being the lone elder.
“She’s made some incredible strides in four years. As a freshman she didn’t think she had leadership qualities in her at all, but she’s really stepped up,” said Hutchinson. “She’s vocal, she’s positive and she’ll put the team on her back. I am really thrilled to have her.”
The Gulls are most effective when they move the ball around and use the versatility of their post players like Crough and Whall. Both players have solid range with their jump shots and have the ability to drive to the rim. In the Gulls offense both need to move along the baseline and into the key and once the ball is in their hands have to have the vision to find open teammates.
“When we are stagnant you can see our offense doesn’t work. When we move and pass and cut and talk with each other that’s when we are at our best and that’s how we always have to be,” said Walenta. “I think we can always improve on moving on offense. Sometimes we are stagnant and sometimes we will have that lull on defense. So we need to work on playing a full 40 minutes.”
Without a true, imposing presence down low it takes a full team effort to bring in rebounds, which Endicott is capable of delivering.
“Rebounding is heart and desire,” said Walenta. “If we really focus on that we can grab those rebounds no matter what size we are. If you have the heart to get it you will get it.”
The ladies won’t be the only ones relying on heart in the near future.
Without Makris, Magee and Burkhart, the Endicott men need multiple young guys to step up.
Makris was really starting to dominate before he was sidelined with an injury, with 27 points in his last game.
“He’s been playing great. He’s really stepped up and it’s unfortunate he wasn’t here tonight, but you know, everything will be fine later on in the season,” explained senior captain Lance Greene. “He’s a sophomore now so he’s a lot smarter. He’s a great player and I can’t wait to have him back.”
Greene (15 points in last night’s loss) and fellow captain Bennett Knowlton will have to hold the fort without Makris and the other two captains, Magee and Burkhart.
“We’ve been playing together the last couple of days trying to stay positive and work hard in practice and execute in the games,” said Greene. “We’re trying to communicate to each other on the floor and give it all we got. We want to keep in good spirits. We know (the injured players) will be back soon so we have to keep the intensity up and keep things up until they get back.”
Doing his best to keep the ship afloat last night was sophomore guard John Henault, who poured in a game-high 33 points while freshman guard Dan Powers contributed 18 points. Sophomore Tell White played some quality minutes and freshman Eddie Danek showed he can finish around the rim.
A barrage of three-pointers from Nichols coupled with a night in which the Bison shot a ridiculous 64 percent from the field and 60 percent from downtown crushed any chance for a Gulls victory. Nichols’ 17 treys were a program record and the 236 points was the highest combined total in an Endicott men’s basketball game ever.
Head coach Phil Rowe was only there for the beginning as he was run from the game with back-to-back technical after one of the officials appeared to be displeased with a conversation Rowe was having with a different official.
The Gulls lone big man in the lineup last night, Matt Kneece had just picked up his third foul in the game’s opening eight minutes and Rowe and many others felt two of those were soft.
The Gulls finished the first half with 13 fouls and two technical and were forced to empty the bench the rest of the way.