Early season upset wins fuel resurgance for men’s basketball

The men’s basketball team opened its home schedule with two wins for the first time since the 2010-2011 season


Caroline Blackmon

Just a few weeks into the season, the Washington and Lee men’s basketball team has already knocked off one of the top ten teams in the nation and one of its biggest rivals in the ODAC.

Over Thanksgiving break, the team defeated Catholic 74-72, a team ranked number six nationally at the time by d3hoops.com. W&L followed up the emotional victory with a 75-66 conference win over Hampton-Sydney.

According to Head Coach Adam Hutchinson, donned “Hutch” by his players, setting high goals motivates him and the whole team.

“Our goal is always to win ODACs and find a way into the NCAA tournament,” Hutchinson said. “It’s a challenge every year, but I like what I see so far.”

Hutchinson said his plans for each practice and game vary on who they are set to play.

“Usually, I look at games in four or five game chunks,” Hutchinson said. “I start emphasizing what’s coming up ten days before, so it’s not a surprise.”

But there are a few aspects of practices that remain consistent, as the team must continuously work on certain areas of the game.

Two of these issues are foot speed and depth, according to Hutchinson. Both Stephen Himmelberg, ’17, and Jim Etling, ’15, said that the team’s biggest weakness is that its often gets a lead of six or so points and then, instead of widening that lead, becomes complacent.

“One of our biggest weaknesses is that we’ll have a good first half, and then we tend to come out in the second half flat by giving up six points,” Himmelberg said. “We were able to eliminate that in our bigger wins.”

Captain Andy Kleinlein, ’17, said he thinks their success and failure is dependent on their overall focus as a team.

“Everything stems from our focus,” Kleinlein said. “If we’re focused, then we’re improving on limiting turnovers, not letting the team get second shots, and trying to push the pace a little more.”

This year’s team also has strengths that make it a strong contender in the ODAC. According to Hutchinson, the team is very balanced on both the offensive and defensive ends.

“We have good inside scoring and good outside shooting. I think we defend pretty well. [Roy McMillan, ’19, and Devin Kearns, ’19] have given us a tremendous jolt,” Hutchinson said. “If I had to narrow it down, I would point to four strengths: passing [by Andrew Franz, ’16], [Kleinlein’s] shooting, [Clayton Murtha’s, ’18] ability to score and the ability of Darren Douglas, ’16, to dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the other team’s best perimeter.”

According to players, the captains are another strength of this year’s team.

“You can’t ask for better teammates,” Etling said. “They also all bring different things to the table. [Kleinlein] is the best shooter in the ODAC, Douglas is the best defender in the ODAC and Franz hit 1,000 total points against Catholic.”

All of these strengths were tested against Catholic on Nov. 24. Last year, the team lost on the road by 40 points, which Hutchinson said he thinks was one of the biggest reasons they were more excited this year.

“Besides the current seniors who won a couple of big games their freshmen year, I was mindful that this current group of guys hadn’t done anything like that,” Hutchinson said. “I was really happy for them to get a win like that. I heard them yelling in the locker room after the game and that’s when I realized how fired up they were.”

Douglas held Catholic’s preseason All-American, Bryson Fonville, ‘16, to just two points, and Kleinlein made the game-winning shot in the closing seconds to put W&L ahead at the buzzer.

Kleinlein acknowledged that this was the team’s biggest win so far in his career.

“Throughout the game, we were steady and focused. We didn’t have too many ups and downs,” Kleinlein said. “We were just fighting and battling throughout the whole thing. After, [however], we were pretty excited. We’re getting some more confidence now.”

The team also played against Hampden-Sydney, one of their biggest conference rivals, on Dec. 2. This was one of Etling’s and Kleinlein’s favorite games so far this season.

“Since I’ve been playing for the last five years, I’ve only been a part of a team that’s beaten Hampden-Sydney twice,” Etling said. “We have a pretty big rivalry with them.”

Kleinlein said that beating them was big, especially with maintaining their confidence level, despite falling to nationally ranked Virginia Wesleyan on Dec. 5.

“It was nice to get a win against [Catholic] and it feels like we’re really on a roll now,” Kleinlein said. “Now we’re really focused to win, play hard and get better each day.”