The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Mens basketball fights down the stretch

Tom Andreae ’25 drives to the hoop. Photo by Eleanor Lazaroff ’27.

In a season that started with high expectations, things have not all gone to plan for the men’s basketball Scots. After a preseason featuring a memorable exhibition opener against the University of Minnesota, in which the Scots had ambitions of claiming the MIAC championship, they won only three of their first 11 conference games. 

The Scots had two big wins in that stretch: a dramatic 86-82 win over St. Olaf College — the opponent that eliminated them from the playoffs in 2023 — and a 15-point victory against Carleton College after coming back from down 18 points. Nevertheless, they weren’t able to build on those wins and entered the week of Jan. 20 3-8 in conference, having lost seven of their last eight MIAC contests. 

This situation isn’t new for the Scots, though; after a midseason slump in the 2021-22 campaign, a Scots squad that included many of the key pieces from their current roster  rebounded and made a run to the finals of the MIAC playoffs. 

“It’s definitely something we keep referring back to, in the sense that we know we can do it,” Caleb Williams ’25 said. “We’re almost in the same exact position, as far as record goes, at this point in the season, as the 2021-22 season. And so we know what it takes. It’s gonna take a special run, but we have what it takes to do it.”

That run, which included the Scots rattling off five straight victories in must-win scenarios to reach the final – including a pair of two-point wins against the then second-in-the-MIAC Augsburg University – might seem unthinkable to replicate now, but Head Coach Abe Woldeslassie ’08 says his team could pull it off again.

“[In 2021-22], 19 games into that season, we were 9-10; 19 games into this season, we’re 9-10,” Woldeslassie said. “What I reminded our players is, we’ve been in this situation, and we’ve had to fight our way back. And then at the end of that year, we finished in sixth place, and they were able to make a run, and the rest is history. So, we’ve been in this situation before, and the key was we didn’t quit at that time.”

Needing wins this year as the season entered its final phase, the Scots first welcomed a bedraggled College of St. Scholastica squad and dealt with the Saints, 84-76, behind 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists from Coby Gold ’25. 

Their next test was away to Concordia College (Minn.), a tough opponent to travel and face. The Cobbers previously beat the Scots in the Leonard Center 81-70 in both squads’ MIAC openers, and the rematch would be a critical game in the Scots’ playoff race. 

The Scots jumped out to a modest early lead, and with 10:15 left in the first half, Caleb Williams pulled up and scored from range. From there, he would score all of the Scots’ next 11 points, and 15 of their next 18. 

“After the first seven or eight fall, you know you’re gonna have a good night,” Williams said. “At that point, it’s just trying really not to force it, taking the shots that you’ve taken before. But also, I’m really appreciative of my teammates, they let me take those shots, they were giving me the ball. And it’s much better that we won.”

Hitting contested shots and turnaround jumpers, Williams led the Scots’ offense, as the Cobbers failed to slow him down. By the end of the first half, the Scots held a 10-point lead, and Williams had 32 points, on an excellent 13-16 from the field.

In the second half, the Cobbers fought back. Williams kept up the scoring, although not as prolific as his first half, as the Cobbers sent double teams to hound him. Concordia got hot from three and eventually took a small lead into the final minutes of the game. Down the stretch, six points from Simon Weisserman ’27 — four of those from two layups assisted by Gold — helped keep the Scots in it, and one last three-pointer from Williams got them a lead. Clutch free throws from multiple Scots allowed them to hold onto a crucial win, 92-88. 

The win put the Scots back in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Williams’ eventual Macalester-record total of 51 points put him in illustrious individual company. Williams’ program record bested the previous Scots mark of 43 points, set by Gerald Dreier ’57 against University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1955. Jerry “Automatic” Dreier was inducted into the Scots’ Hall of Fame, and was a one-time Macalester career points leader. He was drafted in the 11th round by the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks in 1957 — albeit in a league with eight teams — although it seems that he never ended up playing professionally. Dreier passed away in 2014, at 79.

The 51-point total also had Williams just one point shy of the MIAC in-conference record 52 points that Augsburg’s Devean George scored in 1999. George would go on to be drafted in the first round of the 1999 NBA draft, and would immediately become a three-time NBA champion as part of the legendary Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal Lakers squads of the early 2000s. It’s hard to overstate how impressive Williams’ display was, and against a strong opponent in what amounted to a must-win game, every one of his 51 points was necessary in a four-point win that kept the Scots within sight of the playoffs. 

“I think that it shows a lot of resilience going on the road,” Eric Wentz ’26 said. “That’s a three and a half, four hour ride, it’s a tough place to play in the middle of the week. So, I think going there on a Wednesday and getting a big road win shows that this team is capable of beating anyone.”

Amid Williams’ 51-point night, Weisserman’s six points down the stretch of the game highlighted how the Scots’ first- years have contributed to this campaign. In addition to Weisserman, who has found minutes filling into roles left vacant by injuries to Badou Ba ’25 and Noah Shannon ’26, Kaden Holdbrook’s ’27 outside shooting has been critical to this team’s success. 

“Kaden [Holdbrook] has gone from not starting to starting, and now he’s actually coming off the bench again but still playing a good amount of minutes, around 20 minutes per game, and he’s averaging double digits,” Woldeslassie said. “For a first-year to be able to average 10 points a game has been big. And then, Simon [Weisserman] as of late has played more … Simon had a huge block at the end of the [Concordia] game to secure that, and he also had two big free throws at the end. I think Simon’s size, his rebounding ability and his passing gives us another big, in addition to Armando [Akapo-Nwagbo ’25], and gives us some size because Badou and Noah are out.”

Another key story of the season has been Robert Grace IV ’25, who started the season as a student assistant coach and sporting filmmaker working on his project Rob’s Reels. In the wake of injuries to the Scots’ top players, Grace returned to play to provide a much-needed defensive spark. His first game back was the comeback win against Carleton, where he announced his presence with five steals in just 14 minutes on the floor. 

“Because of some injuries … I flat-out asked him to come back into a playing role, and he agreed,” Woldeslassie said. “[It’s] just the energy he brings defensively. Whenever he steps on the court, he’s the quickest player on the court. He’s just dynamic that way. He’s a really good passer, he can finish at the rim and he just brings energy off the bench that I felt we were missing.”

“Energy is a big part of what [Grace] brings to the team,” Wentz said. “Even when he’s on the bench or in practice, he’s one of the louder guys, helping each other raise the energy and just having that effort. That shows the younger guys what it takes to play at this level but also gets his teammates motivated.”

The next test for the Scots would be the toughest one on offer in the MIAC. Saint John’s University, with just one conference loss to date, rolled into the Scots’ gym already the presumptive MIAC champions. Despite their momentum, the Scots took them to task. Responding to the Johnnies’ hot shooting with three-point accuracy of their own, the game was back-and-forth through the first half. After a competitive first 30 minutes of basketball, though, the Scots’ scoring dried up while the Johnnies went on a run, using a 23-6 stretch to open a 19-point lead on the Scots and put the game away in the second half.

On Jan. 31, the Bethel University Royals made the crosstown trip to face the Scots in yet another clash with playoff implications. The Royals had beaten the Scots earlier in the season, primarily on their play down low, exploiting the Scots’ undersized defense. 

“Last game [against Bethel], we played them and they really hurt us inside. And so, we’re going to try to play a little bit bigger,” Woldeslassie said. “And last game, I don’t think Simon even got in the game. Robert Grace, at that time, was not even playing, and now he is playing. And also, Noah [Shannon] was playing and now Noah’s injured, so I just feel like we’re a different team. And just like Concordia, who beat us the first time, we have to beat them the second time.”

Despite the adjusted squad and home setting, the Scots once again fell into a 20-point hole against the hot shooting Royals who once again feasted down low. The Scots fought hard at the beginning of the second half but couldn’t make their momentum stick, and eventually fell 85-69, having been outrebounded 52-24. Williams and Gold both had 14 points to lead the Scots, while Tom Andreae ’25 had eight rebounds.

Down the last stretch of the season, the coming five games for the Scots are critical for their hopes of an entry into the postseason tournament. Their main target figures to be St. Olaf, who sit two games ahead of the Scots with equal games played. Because of each team’s path, the Scots will likely need to go at least 3-2. The home games against lower-ranked teams in Saint Mary’s University (Minn.) and Augsburg University will be must-win contests, and they will need to take at least one win from three away games against top MIAC squads in Gustavus Adolphus College, Hamline University and Carleton College. 

The Scots and Oles split their contests this season, so the relevant tiebreaker will, in all likelihood, be each team’s record against higher-ranked teams. Currently, both teams have only two wins against those teams, so a Macalester path to the sixth seed necessarily includes one further win against good teams. Performing in those tough games will be paramount down the stretch.

The Scots will have no other option that to play every game like an elimination game contest, fighting to break into the postseason tournament and get what they can from a season where they have faced myriad setbacks.

“It’s going to be a wild ride to the end of this year. So hang on.”


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Noah Riccardi, Sports Editor

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