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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Men’s hoops impresses at Williams Arena, falters at home

Caleb Williams ’25 drives to the hoop. Photo courtesy of Macalester Athletics.

When the Macalester Scots stepped on the floor at Williams Arena to face the University of Minnesota, it was a marker of the meteoric rise of the men’s basketball program. The game itself would only serve to further that message. 

Caleb Williams ’25 opened the scoring with a running floater down to the baseline, then hit a free throw on a later possession. Coby Gold ’25 sank three of three from the line after being fouled, then the Macalester offense went into high gear. With the Scots deftly moving the ball around in the half-court, Noah Shannon ’26 found Williams, and the guard hit an NBA-range three, contested by 6’11 Minnesota big man Dawson Garcia. On the next trip, Williams hit another contested jumper. Another possession, and Williams distributed out of a drive to Kaden Holdbrook ’27 in the corner, who announced himself by draining a three-pointer. After collecting a rebound and pushing the pace down the floor, Eric Wentz ’26 opened his season’s scoring with another corner three, opening up a 17-9 lead and electrifying the Macalester faithful, who traveled in high numbers to the crosstown matchup and established an impromptu Scots section, behind the Macalester bench. 

For just a few mind-bending minutes, the Scots were running a D1 Big Ten side off of their home floor. After the 2022-23 season, where some bad three-point shooting nights hampered their MIAC title hopes — including 25% from three in a crucial four-point loss to Carleton College, and 22% in the second half of the two-point playoff loss to St. Olaf College that ended their season — the sharp-shooting display was hopefully a sign of things to come. 

Inevitably, the Gophers, on average significantly taller than the Scots — especially without injured forward Badou Ba ’25 — were able to use their size to get back into the game and take a sizeable lead. However, Caleb Williams kept cooking. The guard caught fire from the field, making highlight reel plays seemingly every time down the court. He repeatedly pulled up for contested NBA-range threes, and hit seemingly impossible fallaway jumpers. He showed off shifty dribbling moves and his elite pace, creating the bare minimum amount of space to make shots over the Gophers’ guards, or flummoxing them with a spin move, as he did to a hapless Elijah Hawkins to grab his 15th and 16th points on a drive to the paint, on his way to 23 in the first half. 

In the second half at Williams Arena, affectionately referred to as ‘The Barn’ for its long history and 1920s arena architecture, the Gophers ran away with the game as they got hot from three. In a common strategy for undersized college teams, the Scots sold out on perimeter defense to crowd the paint to try and slow the Gophers’ scoring down low. As a consequence, though, they allowed the Gophers ample open threes, banking on them missing their shots, and accepting that if they did hit their shots, the game would go out of reach. When the Gophers started hitting from three, they were able to put the game beyond doubt. 

Undeterred by the deficit, Williams kept making shots. By the time he exited the game, he had 41 points, an unofficial career high due to the game’s status as an exhibition.

Williams’ impressive 41 points — many of which were scored from acrobatic and contested shots — also attracted a good deal of online attention in the days following the game. A post by @strictlybball on Instagram racked up over 130,000 likes in the week after the Scots’ exhibition contest, and “D3 Hooper Caleb Williams” — as opposed to USC’s quarterback of the same name — gained a measure of online notoriety for his feats against a D1 opponent.

Even the Gophers’ coach had to give props: “Credit to that kid Williams,” Minnesota Head Coach Ben Johnson said in an interview with the Star Tribune. “He made some tough ones. We got him going early. He was tough to guard.” 

Although Williams may have surprised the Gophers and the national basketball landscape, for Scots fans who have witnessed his accomplishments at Macalester, William’s 41 points at The Barn was the latest installment in a two-year-long story full of contested shots and skillful drives. Scots fans have seen Williams hit 25 footers and fallaway jumpers in the past; seeing him do it repeatedly against a D1 team was a special sight, and bodes well for his ability to replicate it against MIAC foes.

 As time wound down on their time at Williams Arena, the Scots put out a lineup with mostly first-years to play out the final minutes. At the very end, with one final possession, they swung the ball around and found Holdbrook. The first-year drained a straightaway three with the shot clock expiring, and it gave the Scots’ fans one more chance to celebrate. Despite the final score, a 97-73 loss, the game showcased these Scots’ many skills, and established them as serious contenders for the MIAC title. 

After the exhibition game high, the season reached its official start with a home game against University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Holdbrook picked up exactly where he had left off at The Barn, draining two threes on the Scots’ first two possessions of the season. Williams poured on a third, and there were hopes of another home opener blowout, as it was in last year’s opener against Martin Luther College. But the Yellow Jackets stayed in the game through the Scots’ opening onslaught, and came through to lead as the Scots hit a prolonged dry spell. 

The ball seemed heavy in the hands of the Scots, and they couldn’t find the space that had lended them their opportunities in the opening of the game. They missed their shots while the Yellow Jackets hit theirs, eventually pulling out an 11 point lead over the Scots. 

Coby Gold hit a three coming out of the half, but Superior came back with more offense, extending their lead to 15.

With around 15 minutes left, Williams hit one of his signature fallaway jumpers and lit a spark in the Scots offense. A Ryan Brush ’26 three led to an Eric Wentz trey that cut the Superior lead to 8 and brought the Macalester crowd back to life. After the lead went as low as 6, Superior went on another run to make it a 17 point game. 

The wheels started turning for a last ditch comeback with two Holdbrook threes, and the Scots had the lead down to ten with 2:38 left, but fell away again.

Despite some more positive moments for the Scots, they couldn’t topple the Yellow Jackets’ lead, and lost 88-73.

Kaden Holdbrook finished the night best of the Scots with 23 points, announcing himself in earnest to the Scots in his first official game. More contributions of that sort will help buoy the Scots through the season. Williams had 22 on the night as well, but still couldn’t close the gap to the Yellow Jackets.

As the new season is set to tip off in earnest for the Scots in the coming weeks, the Macalester men’s basketball team still has high hopes and excitement. After suffering a heartbreaking season-ending loss in the first round of the MIAC playoffs last season, Head Coach Abe Woldeslassie ’08 and his squad are locked and loaded as the quest for a MIAC championship sits on the horizon, with their first conference game on Nov. 21.  

“We feel like we’re favorites in the MIAC this year. We have a lot of scoring returning and we feel like we have everything we need to be MIAC contenders and hopefully make the NCAA Tournament,” Woldeslassie said when asked about the team’s mentality heading into the new season.

While the Scots were able to bring back all of their offensive firepower, the biggest area of focus will be playing without reigning MIAC Defensive Player of the Year Badou Ba, who will be out for the season after suffering a knee injury. The injury to the 6’7 big man will surely be a bump in the road, as he was an integral piece to the squad during their 2022-23 season. “Not only did he have a chance to win Defensive Player of the Year [in 2023-24], but maybe even Player of the Year,” Woldeslassie said. 

While Ba will be sidelined for the entirety of the season, junior big Armando Akapo-Nwagbo ’25 will be a crucial piece for the Scots on the defensive end of the floor. Although he appeared in just 14 games during his sophomore campaign, he made his presence on defense known during his time on the court and showed flashes of his capabilities, most notably when he tallied fifteen rebounds against the University of Minnesota-Morris. The 6’6 forward displays tremendous athletic ability and is about as strong as they come. It’ll be interesting to see him take the floor and contribute effectively to the squad this season, and it will be exciting to see how the Macalester defense, who allowed just the third-fewest points in the conference last year, will try to replicate that success. 

“We definitely don’t want a repeat of last year, so we just come into work every day ready to get better. We’re looking forward to those challenges and all things considered we’re in a good spot and we’re ready to be competitive,” Caleb Williams said. The two-time All-MIAC guard emphasized that, although the path to the goal has changed a bit, the goal itself hasn’t changed.

The outstanding performance against the Gophers in their exhibition match showed the talent of these Scots, and despite a disappointing home opener, there is no telling where the ceiling is for this hungry Scots squad as they get set to begin something of a revenge tour, in pursuit of their first MIAC championship since 1981. 

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Noah Riccardi, Sports Editor

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