At this time last year, the men’s basketball team was 5-3 and preparing for Division III powerhouse Amherst College, an eventual upset win for the Lions. A year later, Emerson is 3-4 and underperforming with a more complete roster.
The Lions won their home opener against Pine Manor College 75-72 on Nov. 24. Though Emerson was leading by 16 points at the half, they let the Gators fight back to a 70-70 tie with just over three minutes to play.
Last year’s squad beat the nearby Fisher College Falcons a convincing 77-60. This year, on Nov. 25, the Lions lost in overtime 79-77, despite junior guard Michael Thorpe scoring 24 points during the game.
Despite a lackluster record so far, the first month of the season has been successful for Thorpe and Austin Pinckney, also a junior, who have started every game for the Lions. Thorpe leads the team with 12.4 points per game. Pinckney has averaged 11.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounds with 10.8 a contest.
A taste of Division I
In Emerson’s first game against a Division I school in program history, the team fell to the University of Hartford Hawks 83-50. According to Patricia Nicol, the athletic director, Emerson played the game to gain experience and a potential confidence boost.
Despite holding the Hawks to 32 points in the first half, the Lions could not keep up with a second half surge by the Hawks bench, who scored 42 points in the game to Emerson’s 22.
The Lions played other high-level competition in the last calendar year, including a 90-79 victory over the then-defending Division III national champion Amherst Jeffs last December, which snapped their 29-game win streak, and a 64-50 loss to the third-ranked Worcester Polytechnic Institute Goats.
Despite losing to the Hawks by 33 points, first-year Emerson head coach Bill Curley said he was encouraged by his team’s first-half performance.
“You want to play against the best,” Curley said. “Playing Hartford this year was a good opportunity [for us]. Hartford isn’t a big time Division I program, but they are a high level team that plays against some of the best teams in the country.”
Curley said playing against a Division I opponent was valuable for his players.
“Our guys can take a lot from them being able to play against Hartford really well for a half,” said Curley. “I wanted to give everyone a taste and for 30 minutes our guys played really well.”
Pinckney, who led the Lions with four rebounds and six points, the second highest point total for Emerson, agreed it was a good experience.
“We like to play up to our competition and had a good half against [Hartford],” said Pinckney, a visual and media arts major. “The difference between a team like Hartford and us is how they adjust at halftime. They adjusted to our style of play and that was it.”
A look forward
The Lions will finish this part of the season with three more games before the break.
They are set to face a tough foe in Amherst on Dec. 6. The Jeffs are currently ranked second in the nation and were eliminated in last year’s NCAA tournament in the semifinals.
“We’re playing to win. We think we can play with [Amherst],” said Curley. “They are a tremendous program, and they are playing at home. We want to go up there thinking we can. Not many people gave us a chance to win last year, and we were able to win.”
Emerson will play former Greater Northeast Athletic Conference opponent Mount Ida College on Dec. 8, a team that they soundly defeated 85-56 last season. The Mustangs are 1-4 on the season, including an 89-75 loss to Pine Manor.
The Lions will face Wheelock College at home on Dec. 10 for their last game of the calendar year.
“[Over the break it’s] important we stay in shape, work on those skills and rest up and let injuries heal,” said Curley. “[The players] can’t just sit down playing Sega and staying up all night. We’re off and running when we get back.”
Emerson will kick off 2015 with a matchup against geographic rival Suffolk University on Jan. 4.
Play in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference will start against Babson College on Jan. 7. The Lions dropped both games to the Babson Beavers last season, one in an overtime loss.