The Macalester men’s basketball program knew that there would be growing pains during the 2013-14 season. When senior guard Justin Wazik tore his ACL and was forced to redshirt prior to the season, the Scots were left without a single senior on the roster heading into the campaign. Therefore, with no seniors and only one junior to finish the season, the Scots were composed primarily of youth and inexperience.
Starting one junior, two sophomores, and two freshmen for the majority of the season proved to be a struggle for the Scots. They finished the regular season in 10th place in the MIAC (4-21 overall, 3-17 MIAC), but all three of their conference wins came against teams above them in the final league standings.
“We played some really good basketball but had some unfortunate injuries, and depth was a major problem for us,” said forward Griffin Glatt ’16. “However, we definitely took some steps forward in developing young guys and learning how to play together.”
The MIAC is arguably one of the toughest Division III basketball conferences in the country, which meant there was hardly an easy contest on the schedule for the Scots. In fact, all four of the Macalester victories were by four points or less, with two of those wins coming in overtime.
One of those triumphs was during the second game of the season, where the Scots headed to Lake Forest (Ill.) and proved victorious in a 92-89 triple overtime thriller. The Scots were led by guard Dylan Kilgour ’16, who went 9-14 from three-point distance and scored a career-high 40 points. It was a Macalester single-game scoring record, topping Erik Jackson’s 37 points versus Carleton in 2000.
“We moved the ball extremely well so I know I got a lot of good shots from that,” Kilgour said about the performance. “I think the best part was just winning in three overtimes because that’s just a really taxing thing to do. They had chances to win the game at the end of regulation and in a couple of the overtimes, but we were able to hold on and fight through it and eventually pull away.”
Three games later, the Scots hosted their first MIAC game versus Concordia-Moorhead, who had won the last 12 meetings between the two teams. However, the first career double-double by Kareem Ismail‘s ’17 (27 points, 12 rebounds) propelled the Scots over the Cobbers for Macalester’s first victory in a MIAC opener since 2007. Ismael was named MIAC Player of the Week for his contribution.
Winter Break was not a kind period for the Scots as the team dropped its next 13 games. The team also lost starting guard Hans Erickson ’15 during the span due to his study abroad program.
“We obviously hit a rough patch over Winter Break losing every game over J-Term,” Glatt said. “It was extremely tough, but guys stayed motivated and focused. It would have been easy for us and the coaches to just give up, but the coaches did an amazing job of keeping us motivated and focused everyday.”
After a beat-down loss at St. Thomas, the Scots went into their Feb. 1 game versus Hamline rejuvenated. The team earned its second MIAC win of the season in a 71-67 overtime victory, where four Scots contributed double figures in the scoring column.
“The Hamline game was one of the best games I have ever been a part of,” said guard Bert Yaffe ’15. “It was a total team effort and so many guys were making hustle plays. It was the most competitive game we played this year and it was great to maintain our composure and pick up the win.”
Following the Hamline game, however, the team went into another funk, dropping its next five games.
They headed to Northfield for their final contest of the regular season to face their academic rivals, the Carleton Knights on Feb. 22. Carleton had defeated Macalester at the Leonard Center earlier in the season 66-52 and had not dropped a game versus Macalester since 2007.
“It is really easy to get motivated to play Carleton as our biggest rival in the MIAC,” head coach Tim Whittle said. “Our guys were all excited about the opportunity to end the season with a win on the road at Carleton. The game plan was rebound, take care of the ball, and contest every shot, especially by their big men. We have done a great job all year of executing our game plans on both ends of the floor and we did it again on Saturday.”
Indeed, the Scots played arguably their most complete game of the season to close out the campaign, earning a 62-58 victory. A Yaffe three-point bucket with 18 seconds left put the Scots up 61-55 and all but sealed the win.
“We obviously needed a score,” said Yaffe about the bucket. “Sager (Moritzky ’17) drove in and drew my defender and kicked it to me. I knew the shot clock was running down so I let it fly. When it went in, it was the biggest shot I ever hit and a great moment for the team because we pretty much had the game locked up at that point. It was an unbelievable way to finish the season as a team.”
By not graduating any seniors, the Scots will likely return their entire roster, including the starting five of Moritzky, Kilgour, Yaffe, Glatt, and Ismail. Kilgour headlined the returners this season, finishing in the top 15 in the MIAC in scoring (10th at 12.2 points per game), three point percentage (13th at 40 percent), and three pointers made per game (fourth at 2.1). A 2013 MIAC All-Freshmen team selection, Kilgour will likely be chosen as a 2014 All-MIAC selection for his efforts this season.
Kilgour’s sophomore classmate Glatt was also a key contributor in his first full season with the Scots. Glatt missed most of the season last year after suffering from mononucleosis. The forward chipped in a healthy 8.5 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game, which ranked third and second on the team respectively. He also recorded a double-double in points and rebounds in the season’s first two games.
“It was obviously my first full go around of a MIAC schedule, which definitely takes an extreme toll on your body,” said Glatt. “It was great to be healthy all year and get the experience as a sophomore of starting every game I played.”
Meanwhile, Yaffe delivered a solid season in his third year with the program. As the lone junior on the team during the second half of the season, Yaffe was the most experienced man on the roster. He started the team’s final 11 games at the off-guard position and shot a team-leading 81.8 percent from the free throw line. His three point basket in the Carleton game may be remembered as the defining moment of the Scots season.
“It was a little surprising finding myself as the lone junior at the end of the season but I think all of the underclassmen stepped up and filled a leadership role by the end of the season,” Yaffe said. “Next year we will have some seniors and it will be even that much better because so many guys have now been through it all first hand.”
Eager to show they were ready to play, the Scots also had major contributions from two of their starting freshmen. Kareem Ismail will likely be an 2014All-MIAC freshman team selection after leading the team in rebounds (5.8 rpg.) and finishing second on the team in points (11.6 ppg). He finished 14th in the MIAC in points and ninth in the conference in rebounds per game. His classmate and point guard Sager Moritzky dished out 4.4 assists per game in conference play, which ranked second in the MIAC.
The Scots also witnessed solid play off the bench from guard Kyle Bernhard ’16 (4.4 ppg.), Anthony Granai ’16 (36 percent from three-point range), Luke Poulson ’17 (2.8 ppg.), and Anders Voss ’16 (.605 field goal percentage). With the expected return of Justin Wazik ’15, Mike Cavallaro ’17 and Jordan Black ’16 (both who did not play this season due to injury), it could shape up to be Coach Whittle’s best team since he arrived on campus five years ago.
“It is time to take a step with a young group with a lot of experience,” Whittle said. “Everyone knows they have to improve individually and that will lead to team improvement. What a great way to motivate our young team heading into the off-season with a win at Carleton!”
His young team seems to agree with that statement.
“I truly do believe next year’s team will be the best team in recent history,” Glatt said. “I think we have a legitimate chance to make the MIAC tournament and once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.”