Men’s basketball sees long playoff run

The Guilford College men’s basketball team poses after winning the ODAC Tournament Championship on Feb. 24, 2019.// Photo by Andrew Walker/The Guilfordian

A season that with started with a 3-4 record ended as one of the best in school history. Guilford College’s men’s basketball team finished the season in the Quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament with a loss to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Junior guard Kyler Gregory scored a career-high 31 points in the 82-79 loss that ended the Quakers’ season with a 24-8 record.

Although the season finished in the NCAA Championship Quarterfinals, the season began in a much different place.

The Quakers’ second game of the season was a loss to Greensboro College, one of three wins for Greensboro this season.

“When you’ve done this long enough, you’ve had teams start slow, start fast, fade. Different things happen,” said Head Coach Tom Palombo. “I thought at the beginning of the year we were just trying to find an identity as to who we were.”

After losing four of its first seven games, the team beat Old Dominion Athletic Conference opponent and then 22nd-ranked University of Lynchburg. The Quakers caught a winning streak, winning all five games in December and going 7-1 in January.  Guilford got revenge on Greensboro on Dec. 28 with an 82-58 victory. The Quakers beat then 15th-ranked Randolph-Macon to begin 2019 on Jan. 2, 64-63.

Guilford ended the regular season as second in the ODAC behind Randolph-Macon. They then went and won the ODAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Championship. A 10-point win over Emory & Henry College was followed by a nail-biting two-point win over Roanoke, and then the Quakers upset then fifth-ranked Randolph-Macon 70-59 in the ODAC Tournament Championship game.

The NCAA Championship started out as a surprise for the Quakers as they were announced as hosts the first weekend. The packed Ragan-Brown Field House watch Guilford beat the University of the South (Sewanee) and 17th Wittenberg University. The Quakers moved onto the third round as one of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament. An upset over 13th University of St. Thomas (Minn.) propelled them to the Quarterfinals where they lost to UW-Oshkosh.

“I think we had an unbelievable season,” said Palombo. “We came a long way from Oct. 15 to where we finished up at the end of the year, a bunch of guys playing basketball at an extremely high level both individually and collectively as a unit.”

The Quakers used a balanced team to advance far into the NCAA Championship. Senior forward Marcus Curry averaged 15 points per game, and senior forward Carson Long added in 12.8. The Quakers’ junior forward Kyler Gregory averaged 13.5 and 8.1 rebounds per game.

Redshirt sophomore guard Jaylen Gore averaged 10.1 and 4.2 assists. Sophomore Joah Logan started 31 of the games and scored a season-high 14 points against Sewanee.

Guilford used its teams’ depth this season, with ten players playing in at least two-thirds of their games. Sophomore guard Will Leckonby, junior center Steve Ruszala and first-year forward Liam Ward appeared in all 32 games. Leckonby added 5.8 points in 16.6 minutes per game.

With an offense scoring 73.8 points per game, the Quakers shot 43.5 percent from the field and 33.4 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Will Leckonby led the team with averaging 1.8 three-point makes per game on 33.1 percent shooting. Curry (39.8 percent) and Gore (42.0 percent) shot well from the three-point line for Guilford as the team made 7.5 per game.

Gregory anchored the Guilford post as he shot 52.2 percent from the field and was nine-of-23 from beyond the arc.

The Quakers lead Division III with pulling down 1,415 boards this season. They have outrebounded opponents by an average of 10.9 per game, which is fifth-best margin in the country.

Gregory, Curry (7.0) and Long (6.2) crash the boards for the Quakers. Gore adds in 4.0 a game from his guard position.

The Guilford defense was instrumental in the team’s success this season, holding opponents to 65.1 points per game. Opponents shot 37.9 percent on the season, which is fourth-best in Division III.

Guilford loses four seniors after this year including Curry, Long, center Trent Wells and guard Justin Miller.

“Trent and Justin didn’t even get to play a whole lot but had tremendous impact on the team with their leadership,” said Palombo. “The way they went about their business, being a part of the team, being leaders, being guys to pick other guys up and when their name was called going out there and performing. That’s sometimes harder to do than scoring 20 points a game, having to accept a role that in a lot people’s eyes is a smaller role when really it is a big role on our team.”

The Quakers leading scorer, Curry, was named to the All-ODAC First Team as well as the All-South Region Second Team. Long received Third Team All-ODAC honors, his third straight all-ODAC selection.

The team will return three starters for the next season in Gregory, Gore and sophomore guard Joah Logan.

“The challenge for them is to maintain that focus and all the things that go into being a successful team,” said Palombo. “We won two years ago and last year wasn’t the best of years for us, and hopefully we learned a lesson from that, how hard you have to work and how things don’t come easy.”

After winning the ODAC Tournament Champions in 2017, the Quakers struggled and finished with a 15-12 record before bouncing back this season.

The Quakers completed a great season for the program and looks to continue it the next season.