When a team hits the middle of its schedule, the hope is that it is in top form as it enters the stretch run for playoffs. But going 3-4 right before conference play can be troubling.
The Mercyhurst men’s basketball team has turned it around and at the perfect time.
The trend started with two victories by a total of three points over Slippery Rock and Gannon. The Lakers followed the close wins with a trouncing of Indiana (Pa.) by a score of 71-47. The team currently sits in second place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) behind IUP.
The team has won six out of its last seven games, including five straight. The most recent wins have come over Edinboro, 76-62, and California (Pa.), 82-78, in overtime. This streak has improved the Lakers‘ overall record to 13-5 and 11-3 in the PSAC.
Head Coach Gary Manchel believes defense has been the key to success.
“Our defense has been keeping us in games and propelling this win streak,” Manchel said.
Senior Bill Weaver feels the fine-tuning of skills on the court has been successful for the Lakers.
“We’ve been playing with intensity for a full 40-minute game, and we’ve been working on turning our weaknesses into our strengths,” Weaver said.
Sophomore Matt Lee is leading the team in scoring with 16.4 per game. Lee scored a career-high 29 points against Edinboro.
After missing 12 games, forward Luis Leao made his return in the overtime game against Cal.
“He’s rusty; it will take some games to get Luis back into the swing of things,” said Manchel. “He’s one of the best players in the league and we play well when he is on the floor.”
“Luis brings aggressiveness, intensity, leadership and is a weapon on both ends of the floor. He is another weapon to our arsenal,” Weaver said.
Weaver’s 3-point play in the final minutes against Cal propelled the Lakers to a victory. Weaver scored 18 points while Lee chipped in 21.
With the second round of PSAC West play beginning shortly, the Lakers will have to remain defensive-minded.
“Our ability to scout other teams and exploit their respective weaknesses has gained us a competitive advantage in many contests,” Manchel said.
Weaver believes the team’s offensive weapons will set the team apart in the PSAC.
“We have scoring depth, and everyone on our team has an important role,” Weaver said.
Manchel noted Weaver for being consistent throughout the year at both ends of the floor. Also, transfers Steve Coleman and Terrance Ingram have provided a recent spark off the bench, a role that had been previously filled by freshman Callon Dailey, who is out with a broken bone.
Andrew Rickard, with 12.6 points per game, and Jamal Turner, who leads the team in assists with 88 on the year, have been consistent contributors all season.
The Lakers return to action Wednesday, Feb. 1, vs. Lock Haven. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. in the Mercyhurst Athletic Center.