Griffs hoops losing three starters, have hole to fill in center

By Andrew Helwig

Sports Reporter

The Griffs’ basketball team finished with a 14-19 record this season after losing to Iona in the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball tournament. They will be losing some of their significant players to graduation. Malcolm McMillan and Kevin Bleeker will be graduating with their master’s degrees. Jamal Reynolds will be graduating with his undergraduate this May. Prior to the start of the MAAC Championships in Albany at the Times Union Center, it was announced that Head Coach Jim Baron was signed to a three-year contract extension. That locks Baron as the Griffs’ coach until the 2019-2020 season.

The season looked bright as the early parts rolled on. McMillan was scoring over 30 points a game. Reynolds for several weeks into the season was the nation’s top offensive rebounder. The team traveled to Las Vegas to participate in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. In the tournament the Griffs’ had one of their two triple-overtime victories, and came out champions owning a three-game winning streak. The team would then go on more winning streaks, but they were followed by four-game losing streaks. The latter occurred more often than the former. The Griff’s encountered four losing streaks of at least three games and two of at least four games. To have a successful season, having stretches like that can be detrimental. The Griffs only had two three-game winning  streaks.

The second four-game skid the Griffs hit contained some of the worst basketball the Blue and Gold had played. They dropped a must-win game at Rider, who finished with a 13-20 record, and only won eight games in the MAAC. According to GoGriffs.com, Baron said about the game that, “We were right there. Obviously, those back-to-back turnovers really hurt us, and it gave them all the momentum the rest of the way. I still believe in this team. No one has packed it in. Our guys still believe and we’re going to keep working to get better.” Turnovers, that troubled the Griffs spending more time on defense than offense was a problem for the Griffs considering they had a -1.8 point margin giving up nearly 80 points a game. Defensive struggles had been a problem all season, especially considering the Griffs allowed their opposition to shoot nearly 50% from the field. If the Griffs played better defense, their 76 points per game would have gotten them several more wins.

In the upcoming season, the Griffs will have to pick the players that will fill the vacant roles. It has become apparent that Keifer Douse can fill the role of Reynolds, however there may be a downgrade in offensive rebounding that comes with that. Secondly it may be expected that freshman Chris Atkinson will fill the role of McMillan in bringing the ball up the floor, and also in shooting the trey. Atkinson doesn’t quite have the physicality that McMillan does, but he is shifty.

The major hole that will have to be filled is the center spot. Bleeker held that spot all season without any question of losing it. The fifth-year big man has owned the center spot, and has started every game there. On the Griffs’ roster, the only player that is close to the size of Bleeker: Ronnie Gombe. The 6’8″ sophomore had played limited minutes in the 2014-2015 campaign. Bleeker is the only listed center on the Griff’s roster, so for the upcoming season, Coach Baron will need to bring someone in, or expect to convert Gombe to the center position.

Coach Baron has time now to prepare for the next several years, after signing a three-year contract extension. This is Baron’s fourth season at the helm of the Griffs, and only the first year that he has not taken the team to a postseason tournament. Given the loss of three starters, this will be a significant recruiting year for Coach Baron. From here on out it will truly be Baron’s team. According to GoGriffs.com, Athletic Director Bill Maher noted his confidence in Coach Baron to take the program in a positive direction: “Jim [Baron] is a proven winner and he demands the best from his student-athletes. We are excited about the future of our men’s basketball program under his leadership.”

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