A pair of losses clipped the wings of the Blue Jay men’s basketball team last week. The squad dropped consecutive Commonwealth Conference contests against Widener University and Albright College. Widener defeated the Jays on Wednesday 78-62. Albright roared into Thompson Gymnasium on Saturday and topped the team 72-58. Now, the blue and gray will have to fight for their lives to make the playoffs.
“We are going to approach every game like it is a championship game,” first-year guard Phil Wenger said. “Win or go home. We feel like we need to win out to make the playoffs.”
Entering the game against Widener, the Jays possessed a 4-4 conference record, which elevated them above Widener in the conference standings. The Jays were in the thick of the playoff race and controlled their own destiny.
One of their conference wins included a 78-76 victory against Widener at Thompson Gymnasium earlier this season. According to Head Coach Bob Schlosser, it was a monumental win for the squad because Widener is one of the better teams in the conference.
“We were really excited for the game. We beat them once so we knew we could win again,” Wenger said. “We knew we had to have a strong start against them and maintain our composure.”
Elizabethtown College controlled the tempo of the game and penetrated Widener’s zone defense, which lead to easy baskets in the beginning. Sophomore guard Steve Ennis poured in nine points and propelled the Jays to a 28-19 lead toward the conclusion of the first half. However, the Pride ignited their offense and used their speed to claim a 33-30 lead by the time the first half horn sounded.
After the half, Widener constricted the Etown offense by using a full-court press, which limited the Jays to 22 second half points. Then Widener used their speed to generate points in transition. “We played hard but we struggled a little bit scoring and we turned the ball over against their pressure and that was pretty much the difference in the game,” Schlosser said.
After the Widener loss, the Jays fell to fifth place in the conference behind Alvernia. Albright stood a game behind Etown with a 3-6 record. In order to maintain their seed, the team needed to defeat Albright.
“Going into the Albright game we felt it was a must win game,” Wenger said. “We knew where we stood in the conference.”
Etown played scrappy defense in the first half and generated points early. Sophomore guard Joe Schwalm was on fire from the field and led the team with 16 first half points. “Most of my shots were because of proper spacing,” Schwalm said. “I would notice a teammate driving, my defender would help and I just rotated to an open spot to help them make an easy pass, then I would just go up for the shot.”
Wenger also provided a spark for the team with his infectious intensity. He recorded three assists in the first half and constantly battled Albright defenders for possession of the ball. “My teammates work extremely hard in practice every day, especially our captains Dan Silver and Kyle McConnell. I feel like I owe it to them to play as hard as I can the whole game.”
At halftime, the Jays trailed 35-29. According to Schlosser, he tried to find a way for his team to produce offensive opportunities with their defense. “We were searching at halftime to see what we could do to slow them down,” Schlosser said. “A lot of times we turned to pressure, but [Albright] opened the floor more.”
However, the Albright offense overwhelmed the Jays in the second half with their speed. They made most of their shots and drained 60 percent of their attempts overall. In addition, the Jays only made one basket in the first seven minutes of the second half.
Even after these two losses there is still hope for the Blue Jays to make the playoffs. According to Schwalm, the team must play mistake-free basketball and outwork their opponents to be successful. “We must win and nothing less,” Schwalm said.