Here is some advice for future opponents of the Thomas More College men’s basketball team: Don’t look at the Saints’ overall record.
That record, which is 3-9, is misleading. It was compiled while Thomas More was overscheduled, undermanned and undersized.
The Saints, however, are finally back to full strength, and that was bad news Saturday for Washington & Jefferson.
Four of Thomas More’s five starters scored in double figures, and the Saints defeated W&J, 83-72, in a Presidents’ Athletic Conference game at Henry Memorial Center.
“They’ve played a brutal schedule. They’re a better team than 3-9. They played tough teams,” W&J coach Glenn Gutierrez said.
Now that Thomas More (2-1 in PAC) has seniors Josef Marshall and Brandon Housley in the lineup – neither practiced until mid-December – the Saints have five starters back from a team that made a run to the PAC tournament finals last year.
That experience paid off against W&J as Thomas More played with the kind of poise and confidence that is usually not associated with 3-9 teams. The Saints worked the shot clock, made 48 percent of their attempts from the field, committed only 10 turnovers and converted 23 of 25 free throws.
It added up to a frustrating afternoon on the defensive end of the court for W&J.
“The things that was most disappointing is our defensive effort,” Gutierrez said. “It wasn’t what it’s supposed to be. We had to win this game at the point of attack, which means guarding the ball, and we did a poor job of that. We gave up too many baskets in the paint. It was not a good effort from top to bottom.”
And defense is what has W&J (2-2, 6-6) hovering at the .500 mark instead of making a push to the top of the PAC standings. The Presidents are giving up an uncharacteristic 77 points per game.
“It all starts at the defensive end. That’s the way it’s been since I’ve been here,” Gutierrez said. “We’re not going to outscore you, like a Saint Vincent or Westminster. We’re not built that way. We have to win with defense.”
W&J shot 47 percent against Thomas More, but the Presidents couldn’t get a pivotal defensive stop.
The game was close throughout. Thomas More forged a nine-point lead midway through the first half, but W&J responded with a 7-0 run and trailed by only 41-38 at halftime.
Thomas More scored the first five points of the second half and W&J never got closer than four points, 53-49, the rest of the way. The Saints made nine of 10 free throws in the final 70 seconds.
“With the strength of schedule that we have, plus the change in philosophy they’ve had to endure, I’m proud of our guys,” Thomas More’s first-year coach Drew Cooper said. “Those guys were successful last season, but the seniors have been willing to redefine what Thomas More basketball is. … There’s no doubt this is the toughest schedule Thomas More has ever had. It’s prepared us to have a good season. We’re 2-1 (in the PAC) and this is what we needed to build some confidence.”
D’Carlo Hayes led Thomas More with 20 points. He was followed by Drew Mumford with 19, and Housley and Spencer Berlekamp each with 10.
Nate Bellhy paced W&J with 22 points and eight rebounds despite missing several minutes in the second half with an ankle injury. Mitch Locher came off the bench and provided a spark to W&J by scoring 15 points. Doug Johnson had 11 points and Mike Resnik scored 10.