By David Kim
After an electrifying second-half rally that propelled the Pioneers to a thrilling 102-98 victory against Beloit last Saturday, the men’s basketball team will face a crucial showdown this Saturday against St. Norbert for first place in the Midwest Conference. The winner of the game will likely host the Conference Tournament as well, making the matchup even more critical.
Against Beloit, the Pioneers trailed for the majority of the game, including in the entire first half, and at one point were down by as many as 15 points.
“A lot of the credit goes to Beloit,” Griffin Lentsch ’13 admitted. “They had a great game plan and were making their shots. We didn’t come out fully ready to play but we turned it around and played with the sense of urgency we needed to at the end.”
Assistant Coach Dave Arseneault, Jr. ’09 agreed, but did not give up on his team until the final buzzer.
“We have a very resilient group of guys,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t have wagered on us to win with about 10 minutes to play, but I know these guys are capable of just about anything on the basketball court. I just told them to keep plugging away. Our strength as a team is our depth and our ability to wear other teams down by using our depth.”
According to Lentsch, running Grinnell’s System gives the players confidence that no deficit is too large.
The Pioneers caught on fire just at the right time, hitting four consecutive three-pointers to cut the deficit to three with eight minutes left.
“The four three-pointers in a row, two by Aaron Levin [’14], one each by Brian McManamy [’13] and Jesse Ney [’13] were the turning point in the game,” Pat Maher ’14 said. “This sparked life and energy in the team. From here, we knew we had a shot at winning.”
With the momentum on the Grinnell side, the team took the lead by three with 27 seconds remaining on Ney’s three-pointer. Lentsch and Maher drilled the final free throws to seal the victory.
Lentsch led the game with 31 points, shooting 4-9 from the three point line, while Maher had a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 13 assists.
After the exciting finish to the game, the players were ecstatic and the locker room was in frenzy.
“The locker room was incredible [after the game], Arseneault said. “The goal the entire year has been to put a championship banner on the wall of Darby Gymnasium and we kept the dream alive. We’ve known for a few games now that we control our own destiny in terms of winning the league and hosting the championship. To get a road win against another conference tournament team this late in the season means a lot.”
Without any weekday game this week, the Pioneers have the entire week to prepare against the conference’s first-place St. Norbert. But Grinnell only trails the Green Knights by a half-game, meaning a win this Saturday will put the Pioneers at the top of the conference standing and give the team a legitimate chance of hosting the Conference Tournament.
“[The one-week break] gives us time to get prepared mentally and physically,” Dominique Bellamy ’13 said. “St. Norbert is a physical team so we have to be ready for that. And mentally, we’re all aware of how important this game is, so the extra time off will be good for us to get focused on the game.”
The St. Norbert game will also be Senior Day, fitting for the seniors to be recognized and honored at such an enormous game. The players will be more determined than ever with so much at stake this Saturday.
“[The Senior Day] makes it even more exciting and meaningful,” Bellamy said. “You never want to lose on your Senior Day, and with this being a big game as well, everyone will come out focused.”
Members of other classes recognize the importance of the game as well.
“As a junior, I have now played with them for three years. All I can really say is that it has been an awesome experience. I couldn’t imagine a better class to spend the three years with. All of the seniors are great people on and off the court,” Maher said. “Our team is really playing for them at this point in the season, and they deserve it with how much they have meant to our team.”