While the season may not have ended exactly as the Macalester Men’s Basketball team hoped it would, nothing can take away from the Scots’ best season in a decade. Losses to the Augsburg Eagles and Hamline Pipers put a damper on the season’s final week, but the Scots’ final mark of 9-16 (5-15 MIAC) was still significantly better than any season since 2006/07, when the team was 11-14 (7-12 MIAC).
This season, Macalester was led by a unique mixture of talent as seniors and underclassmen alike wrote headlines. Michael Gutierrez ’19 and Kareem Ismail ’17 were undoubtedly the team’s standout performers all season long, starting all 25 games and posting standout stat lines. Gutierrez led the team with 21.6 points per game to go with 4.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, while Ismail put up 16.1 points per game alongside 7.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.6 blocks.
While those two were often the story over the course of the season, they did not carry the offense alone. Dylan Kilgour ’17—who played more minutes than anyone but Gutierrez—was the only other player to earn the distinction of starting all 25 games. He averaged more than nine points and two rebounds per game. Kilgour, Ismail, Gutierrez and Wyatt Ferm ’19—who checked in at over nine points and almost six rebounds per game while battling through a back injury—accounted for more than 70% of Macalester’s offensive output. Additionally Jordan Black-Matthews ’17, Zach Gallerud ’17, Brett Olsen ’18 and Gunnar Goeden ’18 all made important contributions over the course of the season.
Gutierrez was quick to pay tribute to the abilities of the seniors both on and off the court. “I think it’s always hard to replace talent. Kareem and Dylan were obviously both 1,000 point scorers and helped to build the culture that made us young guys want to come to Macalester to play basketball,” he said. He went on to note, “Jordan is one of the hardest working people and leaders I’ve ever met and Zach could be the most humble and determined person at Mac. So each senior brought something different and replacing them is going to be difficult. Scoring-wise, I know we’re optimistic. We return three starters and guys who didn’t score this year are going to have a big opportunity to step up next year. Leadership-wise, I think we’re going to have to look to upcoming seniors Brett Olson and Gunnar Goeden along with some guys who have experience playing in the MIAC to help us continue what we ended the season doing.”
A lot of pressure will be placed on the shoulders of Olsen and Goeden next season, alongside Ferm and Gutierrez. However, they will not be carrying the burden alone. This was a deep team, and Carl Salvino ’19 and Isaac Siegel ’19 both showed promising flashes that their best play in a Macalester uniform is yet to come.
Ferm echoed Gutierrez’s sentiment, both in praising the seniors for their play and confirming that there are talented players ready to lead next season. “Needless to say, we could not have won the games we did without our senior class. On and off the court, their presence [was] incredibly important. They’ve left some big shoes to fill, but I think we have sophomores and juniors with enough experience to take on that task,” he said.
Not only will it be difficult for the sophomores and juniors to replace the talent and leadership of the senior class, it will also be challenging for them to replicate the excitement of Macalester’s 2016/17 season. With victories over North Central University, Crown College, the University of Northwestern, Coe College and Martin Luther College in the season’s first two weeks, the Scots got off to a 4-1 start. Their strong play did not stop there as the Scots beat Concordia Morehead away in January for the first time during Head Coach Mike Whittle’s eight seasons. Before the month was up, they had beaten Gustavus Adolphus on the road in double overtime and knocked off St. Mary’s in Winona with a buzzer beater from Ismail.
However, the heroics of the season’s first few months had nothing on the second week of February. In the space of three days, the Scots did two more things they had never done under Coach Whittle: beat St. Olaf and St. John’s. Those games will be remembered not for their historic nature but for how the victories were achieved. In front of a raucous Senior Day crowd, a buzzer beater from Gutierrez capped off a 37-point performance and a 64-61 victory over the Oles which went viral across our campus. Just two days later, the Scots repeated the trick when they beat the Johnnies 100-97 in double overtime in the seniors’ final game at the Leonard Center. Ismael went out in style with a double-double as he poured in 28 points and 14 rebounds to go with four assists. Gutierrez was almost as impressive as he had been against St. Olaf, adding 26 points, six rebounds and five assists.
The games left an indelible mark on Gutierrez. “Those games were so exciting… and for me, the best part of playing in them was being able to play them at home,” he said. “Not only winning those close games but seeing how excited our players and our students and fans were in the closing moments of both St. John’s and St. Olaf has been my favorite memory of Macalester basketball. It’s an environment that I hope we can play in for a lot of our home games next year because it’s an atmosphere that makes playing and watching so much more fun.”
If Gutierrez and the returning players have anything to say about it, there may well be more days like it next season.