This past Saturday, the Hopkins men’s basketball team traveled up to Allentown, Pa. to face the Muhlenberg Mules in a pivotal Centennial Conference matchup. In their previous battle on Jan. 8, the Mules made their way down to Baltimore and escaped with a four-point victory. After the Jays handled McDaniel College by the score of 70-57, they looked to ride the momentum towards another Conference victory.
Hopkins hopped out to an early eight point lead within the first five and half minutes. The early starts have typified the men’s basketball games, as the Jays have made it a point to start off strong in order to set the tone against the opposition. A solid offensive start, in combination with a spirited defensive effort, helped create space between the two teams.
Sophomore guard Joey Kern pointed to the defensive keys as a point of focus in this rematch.
“We saw a lot of places where we could improve from the first go around, specifically when it came to effort plays,” Kern said. “We stressed the importance of getting rebounds and getting to our spots in our defense.”
The Mules quickly responded to the Blue Jay run with a scoring barrage of their own, sparked by a three-point play by guard Erik Werheim. It ended up being a 12-3 run for the home team, giving the Mules a 14-13 lead with just over 11 minutes left in the first half.
The Jays immediately responded with a three point bomb from senior guard Michael Gardner, one of his seven of the game. Those seven triples accounted for all of Gardner’s 21 points on the game and were one short of his career high for three pointers made in a game.
The Blue Jays were able to increase their lead to seven off the strength of two perfect trips to the line by senior forward Daniel Vila and a deep three from Kern, which made the score 21-14 with close to six and half minutes left in the first. With close to three minutes left, the two teams started trading buckets, featuring huge points from freshman forward Braeden Johnson and senior guard Noah Ralby. The sequence of trading punches gave the Jays the lead going into the break by a score of 25-21.
The theme of back and forth continued at the start of the second half, with both teams firing away successfully from behind the arc. In less than two minutes, the Hopkins lead was cut to just one. For most of the second half, neither team was able to fully take control of the situation.
For 10 and a half minutes, neither Mule nor Blue Jay were able to take more than a four point advantage, which made for a very tightly contested matchup. There were a total of eight lead changes during that span.
It wasn’t until the four-minute mark that the final lead change occurred, with Muhlenberg taking lead on a pair of free throws, making the score 47-46. From that point, the Jays were just out of reach, adding late buckets from Kern and Gardner. The Mules were able to ice the game on free throws, taking the victory by the score of 59-52.
The loss dropped the Jays to 11-3 in Conference, putting them in a tie with Swarthmore College at the top of the table. Despite the loss, Kern looks positively toward the future.
“We can’t shy away from the moment when it comes to playoff time,” he said. “We know we are good enough to win a lot of games in the postseason and we need to play with a level of confidence that helps us play our best.”
This confidence is necessary, as the talented Blue Jay squad only has three games left in their Conference schedule, all important for deciding home-court advantage for the playoffs. The team knows not to overlook any of these games either.
“Every game in the season is important, but the ones at the end always seem bigger,” Kern added. “We are taking the end of the regular season one possession at a time, not worrying about what we’ve done or what we have to do but rather on what we can do in the moment to improve our chances to win.”
Hopkins returns home Saturday, Feb. 9, against Ursinus College.