Hopkins men’s basketball faced two Centennial Conference opponents heading into the weekend. With just a few crucial Conference matches left in the season, all teams came ready to fight to keep or improve their standings.
Thursday’s challenger was none other than the Franklin & Marshall (F&M) Diplomats. With a mixed-bag record of 5-5 in the Conference and 11-6 overall at the time, the Diplomats looked for an upset against the then 9-1 (CC) Blue Jays. Though the Jays would come out on top, the Diplomats gave them a run for their money.
Right off the bat, the title of score leader was passed back and forth for the entirety of the first half — no team able to maintain a margin greater than seven points. Senior forward Dan Vila hit the first points of the game with a layup, but that was quickly answered with a layup from Diplomat Justin Kupa. Kupa hit two more before Vila returned with another layup of his own.
From there, senior guard Michael Gardner and sophomore guard Joey Kern got in on the layup action and put Hopkins up 8-6. Pushing the lead further, junior forward Harry O’Neil made both his free throws. Diplomat Les Thomas tried to close the gap with a shot of his own, but the Jays remained unfazed.
Soon after, freshman guard Braeden Johnson flew in right after with a dunk to put the Jays up 12-8. From here the Jays pushed ahead, faster than the Diplomats could keep up with, until the score reached a solid 21-14.
Franklin and Marshall had yet to lose hope, however. One free throw after another, along with a layup and another solid shot, allowed the Diplomats to creep back into the game to lead 21-22. From there, the battle mirrored the beginning of the game, neither team holding a lead until the half closed, 27-26.
The second half, however, was a different story. From the get-go, the Jays snatched the lead and soared off with it, never looking back. F&M fought desperately to remain within two points of the Jays, but that was the best they could do. Most of the half the Jays led the charge at a solid, but not quite safe, margin of six points. At their greatest heights, Hopkins glided above F&M at an 11-point gap. This gap proved too great for the Diplomats to overcome, and after two solid free throws from Gardner, the game was over.
The Washington College Shoremen were up next on Saturday. They, like the Diplomats, looked for an upset against the dominant Blue Jays. Unlike the Diplomats, however, they managed to squeeze in two points at the end of the match to best the Jays 80-82.
The first quarter resembled Thursday’s game. Hopkins struggled to widen the gap between them and their opponent. The Jays were, however, able to maintain the lead the majority of the time. Only twice did the Shoremen get ahead of the Jays.
But it was too soon for the Jays to celebrate. The Shoremen came back with vengeance, and the tables turned quickly. Shoremen forward Alec Lewis put up the first two points of the half by hitting two free throws. Gardner, Vila, Johnson, Kern and senior guard Noah Ralby fought to keep the score close, but the Jays couldn’t grab the lead. With 18 seconds left on the clock, Vila tied the game up to 80-80, but the Shoremen drew a foul, giving forward Barry McCormick the opportunity to hit two free throws in the last two seconds of the game, which decided the outcome of the matchup.
Ralby commented on the differences between the team’s performance against the two Conference opponents they faced last week.
“Against F&M we rebounded and defended really well, which helped us overcome an off shooting night. Against Washington College, we put ourselves in a tough spot because we had our worst rebounding game of the year. When we defend and rebound like we know we can and like we practice, 80 points should be more than enough to win, but against Washington it wasn’t.”
Ralby continued by emphasizing the need for future practices to be focused on improving the team’s defensive strategy and effort.
“We want to defend a lot better going forward because it gives us a chance no matter what on off shooting nights like it did against F&M. Improving every day in practice will help us get to where we want to be when the Conference Tournament comes around and we’re just focused on being the best team we could possibly be when that time comes.”
Hopkins returns to the court Saturday, Feb. 2 to take on the Muhlenberg Mules in Allentown, Pa.