Griffins confident heading to hardwood
The Seton Hill men's basketball team enters its season with a confidence belying that of a team that was picked to finish 11th in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in a poll of WVIAC coaches.
An unexpectedly productive trip to Baltimore last week is a big reason why.
The Division II Griffins came from behind to win at Loyola University, 72-67, in an exhibition game Nov. 5. That's the same Loyola team that played a second-round NCAA Division I “March Madness” game at Consol Energy Center in April and is the preseason favorite from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to get to the Big Dance again next season.
“A win like that,” said sophomore guard David Windsor, “can give you a lot of confidence. It lets us know what we can do this year if we work hard and play every game like it's our last.”
Seton Hill opens its regular season with a home conference game Tuesday against West Virginia State. Coming off an 11-16 season, the Griffins have a young roster that does not feature a senior who started a game last season.
But that doesn't mean the roster isn't deep, veteran coach Tony Morocco says. His rotation went nine-deep for the Loyola game — and Seton Hill could use as many as 10 players for significant minutes this season.
No surprise, the Griffins will be doing it utilizing an up-tempo style.
“We'll pick it up and go 94 feet,” Morocco said. “We'll press, we'll run, and we'll be aggressive. Our defense is aggressive; we want to be all over. And we can't keep it high-tempo unless you've got the manpower. We feel we can do that because of our numbers. If you had six kids, you don't do that — but with 10, we could really get this thing going.”
The 6-foot-1 Windsor and 5-10 junior Oliver McGlade are the top returnees in the backcourt for the Griffins. Each was a part-time starter last season and will be counted on to be a leader this season, along with Ozren Bjelogrlic.
A 6-7 senior forward, Bjelogrlic started 17 games two years ago but spent last year in his native Europe. He returned to the team when he enrolled in graduate school at Seton Hill.
Other starters to begin the season for Seton Hill are 6-6 sophomore forward Lenjo Kilo, 6-4 junior swingman Max Kenyi and 6-7 junior forward Malachi Leonard.
Kameron Taylor, a 6-4 guard from renowned DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, and 6-6 forward Tuff Barnes are freshmen whom Morocco plans on giving significant minutes to immediately.
Hempfield Area High School career scoring leader Nate Perry, a transfer from Division I Youngstown State, joins Seton Hill this season. A former Trib player of the year, Perry brings prolific scoring from the outside to the Griffins.
“Coach wants to be able to play as many guys as possible,” Bjelogrlic said. “We're not as big as we were two or three years ago, but it seems we're a lot quicker and we play better defense.”
The Griffins can sustain their aggressive attack if they take care of the ball the way they did in the exhibition win against Loyola. Seton Hill had only nine turnovers in that game despite facing full-court pressure throughout.
Morocco holds a genuine respect and likes this season's edition of his team, using terms such as “first class” and “high character” to describe the young Griffins.
A preseason victory against a postseason-caliber Division I team provided a jolt of heightened confidence and expectations.
“The goals are to at least be in the top five of the conference standings and then to win the conference championship,” Windsor said. “And then, of course, make the (NCAA Division II) national tournament.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.