By Matt Noonan / D3hoops.com
Expectations couldn't have been higher for the Babson College men's basketball team last season.
Fresh off their program's initial NCAA Division III semifinal appearance, the Beavers believed they were destined for a return trip to Salem, Virginia. Unfortunately, their quest was cut short in last season's Sectional Semifinals with an 88-76 setback to Amherst College.
"Last year, I think our guys had that 'final four' hangover and thought they were going to win," said Babson head coach Stephen Brennan.
"(We) had a lot of new faces that got playing time like Isaiah (Nelsen), who was a transfer at that point, and Nick Comenale, who didn't play much for us, and we had a month in December where we lost two overtime games, so I think that forced our guys to take a hard look in the mirror and get better, (especially) on the defensive end."
Losing to Amherst in the NCAA tournament last year may have been the perfect turning point – or perhaps motivation for Brennan's squad, which commenced its current campaign with four-straight wins. Or, as senior guard Sam Bohmiller would say, the Beavers have gone '1-0' in four consecutive contests.
Babson's most impressive performance thus far came against Lasell last Thursday when they netted 64 of their 90 points in the first half - it was the most points a Green and White squad has tallied in a single frame, dating back to their 2004-05 campaign.
In addition to an early season win over Lasell, Babson has scored victories against Albertus Magnus and Endicott College – two teams that were picked to capture their respective conferences.
While winning four-straight games, especially in a five-day span is impressive, this Babson squad knows they have a long way to go because championship hardware is not handed out in late November. And if the Beavers are going to contend for their program's first national title, they will need their seniors to step-up, especially three-time New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Player of the Year, Joey Flannery.
Through four games, Flannery led the squad in points (90), free throws made (17 of 18), rebounds (22) and assists (19).
"This is his team, his program and he is ready to go," Brennan said of Flannery. "Our guys work really hard – Joey in particular, and I haven't had anybody put the time in that he does on his game (and) on his body.
"He watches a ton of film and will (come to me) and say, 'Hey, I watched three MIT games last night and we need to do this,' so it's kind of like that dream kid where your best player is also your most dedicated. He sets a standard and his leadership skills have grown immensely and I think that is something that has changed too."
Flannery's play has motivated the squad to elevate their performance, especially classmate Sam Bohmiller, who tallied a career-high 223 points last season, including 46 trifectas (also a career-high) in 29 games.
"There is a reason he has (received multiple honors)," said Bohmiller. "He has the best work ethic and he certainly makes everyone else's lives easier because he is able to do so much…it is more a motivation to bring other people along and make them work that much harder."
Asked about his numerous pre and postseason accolades, a humble Flannery smiles, but deflects the question by saying, "There is always going to be better players (out there), so I know I can always get better."
One of those players that has motivated Flannery to 'get better' is senior Matthew Droney – a Division II transfer from Stonehill College – that sank the go-ahead triple against Trinity (Conn.) in the 2015 NCAA Division III Sectional Finals, which sent Babson to the Salem Civic Center.
Droney has come off the bench in all four games this season and is second on the team in defensive caroms (15).
"Droney hates to lose any drill (in practice)," said Flannery. "He is one of our best leaders, always pushes us and has helped bring the (first-year players) along … people listen to him, people respect him and even though he is not playing 35-40 minutes a game, he is a (player) that will be looked upon and counted on too."
Droney isn't the only player that is challenging Flannery and the Beavers to improve – the same could be said for seniors Isaiah Nelsen and Charlie Rice, and junior Bradley Jacks. Sophomore Tyler Colon should also be a player fans should keep an eye on – the second-year forward netted nine points in back-to-back games this season against Anna Maria and Lasell.
Babson's goal now is to keep their momentum going – it won't be easy, especially with Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin and Salem State looming in the distance, however, the competitive edge this squad possesses should position the Beavers for a deep postseason run.
Yet, don't talk about games scheduled for next week or perhaps next month because Brennan's squad is adhering to the old coaching adage of 'one game at a time, one practice at a time.'
Said Bohmiller, "One thing Coach always says is you don't want to go 25-0. (Instead), we want to go 1-0 25 times, so I think that keeps us locked in on what is going on right now with practices, games and walk-throughs … I think we all understand the goal and what we're trying to do, but we can't be looking forward to February or March right now. This team is going to look a lot different (at that point of the season) then we do right now."
Flannery Pushes Babson to Excellence
By Matt Noonan / D3hoops.com