Men’s basketball begins season on road

by Kelly Chen | 11/11/14 4:37pm

When now-captain Gabas Maldunas ’15 tore his ACL last January, the Big Green had to play without its then-leading scorer and rebounder. But the team managed to go 5-8 down the stretch, thanks to standout performances by Alex Mitola ’16 and Connor Boehm ’16. The team’s 12-16 record was its best in 15 years.

“We’re building off of the positive momentum from last year, and we have a lot of key people coming back,” Mitola said. “We only lost one player from last year, and our returning players like Gabas, Cole [Harrison ’17] and Tommy [Carpenter ’16] are now healthy.”

Maldunas is back and healthy for a Big Green team that looks to improve on its sixth-place performance in the Ivy League. That should be a big boost for the team, which held a 7-7 mark in non-league play before losing Maldunas after the Ivy opener to a practice injury.

“After getting injured, it was hard getting back into shape at first,” Maldunas said. “My athleticism was worse than it was before, but I worked on my shot and dribbling. I’ll add the skills I picked up in the off-season and bringing these to the team will help them succeed. We’re bringing more things to the table than before. I hope we’ll do even better than last season now that I’m healthy.”

The team is picked to finished sixth again this season, ahead of the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University, mirroring last season’s results.

“Our main goal this year is to win the Ivy League Championship, and I feel like we can,” Maldunas said. “We were picked sixth in pre-season polls but that’s because we’ve been struggling a bit for the past few years and haven’t really been clicking, but this year with our key players together, we can turn things around. Looking at other Ivy League teams, we can really do some damage. We can win the league.”

Three-time defending champion and NCAA Tournament upset threat Harvard University was the unanimous number one team. In last season’s March Madness, the Crimson made it to the round of 32 before losing to Michigan State University, who reached the Elite Eight. In 2013, the 14th-seeded Crimson knocked off the No. 3 University of New Mexico Lobos.

Maldunas and co-captian Mitola will lead the team this year. The senior from Lithuania looks to become the Big Green’s first 1,000-point scorer since Alex Barnett ’09. Not only is Maldunas an offensive threat, his 6’9”, 230-pound frame makes him a rebounding monster. In just 15 games last year, Maldunas amassed 128 boards, second-best on the team for the full year.

Mitola helped carry the team after Maldunas went down, averaging almost 12 points per game.

The only other senior on the roster is John Golden ’15, who is known more for his defense than offense. Golden averaged 4.1 rebounds per game and had 22 steals on the year, both of which were good enough for top three on the team. Last season, Golden contributed nearly nine points per game.

Boehm was a breakout star of last year’s team, filling the void in the middle caused by Maldunas’s absence with 5.6 rebounds and nearly 11 points per game. Having Maldunas and Boehm in the frontcourt will help the Big Green both offensively and defensively.

Kevin Crescenzi ’16 and Malik Gill ’16 will also provide important contributions for the team. Crescenzi was also lethal from behind the arc last season, joining Mitola with about 40 percent made. Gill has led the team in steals his first two seasons and had some big games last season, finishing with 89 points and 45 assists total.

“We want to get better on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively,” Mitola said. “One thing we’re trying to improve on from last season is ball movement, sharing the ball and playing more as a team. The more we play together as a team, the better we can be. We want to be five guys playing as a unit.”

The team tips off its first game of the season Saturday on the road against St. Bonaventure University. It will also travel to the University of Hartford for a midweek contest before returning home on Nov. 28, to take on Indiana University at Purdue University Fort Wayne in its home opener.

“Since my freshman year, we’ve been improving every year,” Maldunas said. “I feel like we’re on good pace to keep improving and to have an even better record. The team has been playing together for a while, and this year will be even better because of the amount of experience we have together. We’re expecting a big season.”