The Hopkins men’s basketball team opened the 2017-2018 season on Nov. 15 at home against the Marymount University Saints. It was also the debut for Hopkins head coach Josh Loeffler, who took over for Bill Nelson after 31 seasons with the Blue Jays.
In Coach Loeffler’s first game at Hopkins, the Jays came out strong, going up 7-0 to start the game. Loeffler relied almost entirely on his starting five, as they contributed 79 of the team’s 82 total points.
The Saints responded to the Jays’ initial run with a scoring run of their own, tallying 15 of the next 20 points to take a 15-12 lead. The Jays would battle back for a slim lead that they would hold for the rest of the half. At the midway point, Hopkins had the slight advantage with a 31-27 lead.
However, midway through the second half, the Jays expanded their lead to 20 points. They would lead by as many as 25 points throughout the duration of the game. By the time the clock ran out, Loeffler had his first win at Hopkins, and the Jays had their first win of the season, with a final score of 82-60.
The team had a quick turnaround, as they traveled down to Memphis, Tenn. for the Rhodes Tip-Off Tournament over Thanksgiving break.
The Jays first faced off against the LeTourneau University Yellowjackets and then the host team, the Rhodes College Lynx, in the championship game.
The Hopkins offense thrived down south, scoring 93 points in their first matchup against the LeTourneau University Yellowjackets, followed by a whopping 118 points in their game against the host team, the Rhodes College Lynx, to win the championship.
The offense was led by senior forward Kyle Doran, who scored 23 points in their first game and 24 points in the championship.
After their weekend trip, the Blue Jays opened up Conference play against the McDaniel College Green Terror. In contrast to their season opener, 11 of their 12 players scored to clinch a 72-46 victory, pushing Hopkins to an undefeated 4-0 record to start the season.
The game went back and forth to start. Both teams took leads in the opening minutes, but Hopkins responded to a 13-15 deficit to go on a 10-0 run to take a 23-15 lead that they did not give up for the rest of the game.
During the run, junior guard Michael Gardner combined with Doran to score nine of the 10 points. The Jays would take an 11-point lead into halftime.
Hopkins kept their foot on the gas in the second half, opening a lead as big as 30 points and winning 72-46. This time the Jays’ defensive end shined, forcing 18 turnovers and scoring 31 points off of those takeaways.
Gardner led the team with 16 points and attributed their success on both sides of the court to the team’s ability to communicate effectively.
“Everybody talks, calling out the offense and where people are on defense. This constant communication allowed for everybody to consistently be on the same page,” Gardner said.
The communication continued to ring true in their last game against the Kean University Cougars. The Jays took the lead from 18 seconds in and never gave it up.
The team broke the single-game record for three-pointers made, with 16 three-pointers against the Cougars, including a single-game, record-tying eight threes made by Gardner on only 10 attempts.
The Jays won 77-53, giving them their fifth straight win to open the season. It is the first time the Jays have opened 5-0 since the 2006-07 season, in which they went 24-5 and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Though the Jays have had to deal with losing six seniors last season and coach Nelson, Hopkins has opened this season as strongly as possible heading into the bulk of the first round of Centennial Conference play. The transition from Coach Nelson to Coach Loeffler has been smooth, specifically due to their similar coaching styles.
“Coach [Loeffler] has been stressing that to capitalize on our shooting we have to look to play inside out. He and Coach Nelson have a similar philosophy in that regard, but they have different strategies in taking advantage of our shooting,” Gardner said.
The outside shooting has been strong for the Jays so far this year. They are currently shooting 48.6 percent from beyond the arc and have three players — Doran, Gardner and freshman guard Joey Kern — shooting over 50 percent on the season. This has led Hopkins to average 88.4 points per game, while the defense has held the opposition to 69.4 points per game and a mere 23 percent from the three-point line.
“We believe we are good enough to win the Conference and make a deep run in the NCAAs,” Gardner said.