By Darwin Manning
The men’s basketball team has been gradually cementing their place in Grinnell College’s history books. After starting the season with the record-breaking 138-point performance from Jack Taylor ’15, the team gave the packed Darby Gym a breathtaking performance this past Saturday against their nemesis St. Norbert College, winning 104-99 in overtime. The team then followed this victory with another solid win of 99-90 over Cornell College on Tuesday.
The Cornell College win gave Head Coach David Arseneault his 300th career win, as well as his 200th in league play. The Pioneers will look for their final victory of the regular season against Lawrence University on Saturday, hoping to secure their right to host the Conference Tournament.
The System managed to fight off a tough zone defense from St. Norbert with a zone offense they have been perfecting. The game was by no accounts a relaxed contest as both teams forced their way through each other’s defenses, with plenty of heated rebounds and loose-ball skirmishes. The team needed every last bit of effort in order to prevent their opponents from a winning shot in the final seconds of the game. The Pioneers did not let up once the game pressed on to overtime. Moments after a showcase dunk by Dominique Bellamy ’13 with less than ten seconds on the clock, the court was swarmed with ecstatic fans.
“The crowd stormed the court. That might’ve been the first time that’s happened while I’ve been playing,” Bellamy said.
St. Norbert was a crucial test and building block for the team as they proved to themselves that it was possible to make the necessary adjustments to edge out a victory. Still, their usual offensive onslaught was slightly subdued and they had to rely on their defensive intensity.
“I think our game against St. Norbert will help prepare us for conference tournament play,” said Associate Coach David Arseneault, Jr. ’09. “They’re a great team and they forced us to execute, protect the ball, and play hard.”
The team was propelled forward by this victory as they headed into their final contest at home Tuesday night. While the Pioneers’ shooting percentage was slightly down against Cornell, they more than made up for it on the defensive end and managed to stave off Cornell’s attempts to regain a lead. Once again, the team capitalized on the confidence felt from the crowd and the excitement they have been generating.
“The student and community support give us a significant home court advantage,” Arseneault said. “We’ve been very good on the road this year, but it’s always nice to be at home.”
The team is well aware of the magnitude of where the season now stands for those seniors who have devoted their last four years to the program. The leadership they have exhibited has had a significant impact on the underclassmen. The hope shared by the coaches and players is that this will rub off on the younger players who will follow in their footsteps.
“It seems whenever we get into game situations the older guys are usually pretty determined,” said Tague Zachary ’15. “They are all leading by example and it’s inspiring to see how they play with so much effort and desire to grab rebounds or get steals.”
The seniors also want the chance to leave their mark on the program. They are well aware of all the hard work and years of commitment that it has taken to get to the position they are now in, a victory away from hosting Conference.
“Winning conference isn’t an easy task, so it shows all of the hard work everyone put into this season and hopefully the younger guys can use this experience to be successful in the future seasons,” Bellamy said.
“We’ve overcome so many adversities this season with the first Cornell game when half the team was sick to when Jack [Taylor ’15] injured his wrist to multiple come from behind wins,” Bellamy said. “This season has really been about the team and I think that really means a lot.”
The team looks to finish the regular season on a high note against Lawrence University on Saturday at 3 p.m. A victory there would clinch Grinnell’s right to host the Conference Tournament.
“Coaches have stressed to stay fast, focused and fierce. If we do that, I’m confident in our ability to handle Lawrence and come home [to play in the Conference Tournament], which makes a huge difference,” Zachary said.