Men’s basketball wraps up 2017-2018 season


Abigail Bekele

Junior forward Alston Thompson looks for a pass during their Washington and Lee University game on Nov. 29, 2018. Thompson scored 16 points in the 94-90 loss. //Photo by: Abigail Bekele/The Guilfordian

With 10 minutes to go in the second round of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, Washington and Lee University’s Kevin Dennin hit consecutive three-pointers, putting them up 61-50 over Guilford. The Generals would go on to win the game, 81-63, in a game that would close the Quakers’ season, who finished 15-12, their lowest win percentage since 2006.

Assistant coach Ronnie Thomas had several things to take away from the season, mainly getting the team to understand the importance of overcoming adversity.

“We need to understand how to grow even when we face tough times, (and choose) not to settle,” said Thomas.

The moment encapsulated the year for Guilford, who were down by 20 points at halftime in the matchup and cut the lead to five before a late Washington and Lee surge extende the lead. In fact, the Quakers started the season 7-5 before winning five straight, then struggled late to end the regular season at 14-11. They concluded the regular season with a win over Shenandoah University, who they also topped in the first round of the ODAC tournament.

However, it appeared the team ran out of spirit in their final 10 minutes of the season in Salem, Virginia. They were outscored 26-13, en route to an 18-point defeat by a team they split the season series with, the first loss coming in the first month of the season by only four points. The team fell short of their standards, which is to finish atop the conference every season.

“When you talk about men’s basketball success, it’s winning the ODAC championship,” said Thomas. “Any time we don’t do that, I think the morale is going to be down because as a competitor, you want to win.

“I think our guys are all competitors, and their ultimate goal is to win every day. Any time you lose a game, the morale is never high. I don’t think you’re ever satisfied when you lose.”

Despite the early season woes, the Quakers earned key wins over Roanoke College and Virginia Wesleyan University during their midseason win streak. They split the season series with Emory & Henry College, who finished fourth in the conference, and fifth place Virginia Wesleyan.

Junior forward Alston Thompson believed the team’s bond helped them overcome their early slump.

“Thy’re definitely down vibes, but our mindset throughout the year was, ‘We got to find a way to get out of what we’re in,’” said Thompson. “We just stayed together. We are a team, a family.  If you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to.”

The high standards contributed to the team’s overall confidence, as Guilford College is distinguished as an elite force in the ODAC for the last decade.

“We always kept our confidence,” said Thomas. “Our confidence never dimmed.”

The lack of defensive pressure, especially on the perimeter, was the Achilles’ heel for head coach Tom Palombo’s squad this year, and it haunted them in their final game. Washington and Lee shot 48.3 percent from behind the arc against the Quakers who sacrificed the most three-pointers in the league. They also allowed teams to shoot 38.3 percent from three-point range this year, a figure also last in the conference.

Historically, the Quakers are a nightmare on defense for their opponents. Yet despite returning four starters and 10 letter winners from the 2017 ODAC champion team that kept opposing teams to below 40 percent from the field, Guilford appeared outmatched by the offensive firepower of several of their opponents. Although they held teams to a 41.4 field goal percentage, the Quakers sacrificed 72.8 points per game (fifth in the ODAC), which is a huge jump  from last year’s 61.7 that led the league.

Guilford also struggled from the free-throw line as their percentage dropped from 68.3 a season ago to 67.5 this year. They also forced significantly less fouls, only attempting 520 free throws compared to last season’s 612.

A pair of Quakers garnered All-ODAC recognition. Junior forwards Marcus Curry and Carson Long were named to the First Team and Second Team respectively. Curry led the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game, a figure standing fourth in the league. He also led the team at the free-throw line, shooting 79.8 percent. He posted a career-high 31 points in Guilford’s season opener against crosstown rival Greensboro College.

Long was named to the list of the ODAC’s top players for a second consecutive season. He led the Quakers with nine double-doubles, while averaging 14 points per contest and a team-best 7.4 rebounds per game, good for ninth in the conference. He also posted a career-high 31 points this season in the team’s win over Huntingdon College.

Several of Guilford’s young players stepped up as key role players for the team this season as well. First-year guards Joah Logan and Will Leckonby contributed a combined 11.1 points and 5 rebounds per game in around 18 minutes per game.

“Leckonby is a guy who can shoot, and he knows he can shoot,” said Thompson. “Logan showed strong glimpses. Eventually, this team could be his team. I can see that in his leadership ability.”

Moving forward, Palombo’s staff believes that they have a good group of guys returning who could maintain the high standards of Guilford College basketball.

“I think everyone has an opportunity to play a huge role here coming back,” said Thomas. “It’s a long summer ahead. Summer for those guys starts now.

“The ultimate goal is to win the ODAC championship. Hands down.”