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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Focus on daily improvement behind Conn College men’s basketball program’s success

    Connecticut College men's basketball head coach Tim Sweeney speaks to his team during a huddle in a game vs. Hamilton on Feb. 4 at Luce Field House. The Camels are 18-6 overall, 8-2 in the NESCAC and will be the No. 3 seed in the league tournament beginning Saturday. (Connecticut College photo by Sean D. Elliot)
    Connecticut College forward David Murray dunks against Hamilton on Feb. 4 at Luce Field House. Seniors Jarron Flynn, Billy Whelan, Murray and Ben Rice were honored prior to tipoff. (Connecticut College photo by Sean D. Elliot)

    Results on game day serve as evidence of the Connecticut College men’s basketball program’s success this season.

    The Camels have scored some impressive wins while finishing a program-tying best third place in the challenging New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and earning the right to host their first league championship quarterfinal game in 22 years.

    But it is what happens every day in practice that is behind the team’s success and impresses coach Tim Sweeney.

    The hard work, effort and commitment put in by the entire team on a daily basis has helped elevate the program.

    As a result, the Camels (18-6, 8-2) have racked up their most overall wins since the 2000-01 season. As the No. 3 seed, they’ll host No. 6 Amherst (14-10, 5-5) in the quarterfinals at 1 p.m. Saturday at Luce Field House in New London.

    “I really, really want to emphasize that all 16 guys that are active right now are contributing on a daily basis,” Sweeney said. “Practice for us is so important. We’ve had so many great moments in the last two or three weeks where somebody who isn’t playing minutes in the rotation makes a great play in practice or does something that really helps us prepare for an upcoming opponent.

    “We really try to celebrate that. It’s so important to us. So we really feel like everyone in the program is pulling their weight on this. Some might get more recognition than others, but it truly is an all-hands-on-deck approach.”

    Sweeney also pointed to recruiting the right type of players as a major factor in the program’s rise.

    The Camels have improved every season under Sweeney, who’s in his fifth year. They’ve won four more overall games than last season.

    “It starts with each of the players in the program, and that’s where it starts and always ends,” Sweeney said. “We’ve been able to attract and identify hard-working, team-first student-athletes that are willing to keep improving.”

    Senior David Murray, one of the best players in the NESCAC, is a prime example.

    He’s all about the team.

    He enjoys the moments off the court as well as on.

    “We’ve a very close-knit team,” Murray said. “We’re always eating in the dining hall together and going to the library and hanging out. That connection translates on the court as well.”

    Murray, the team’s leading scorer (17.6 points per game) and rebounder (9.2), has led the charge but had plenty of help from a strong cast that includes fellow starters sophomore Elias Espinosa, junior Cam Schainfeld, sophomore RJ Casey and senior Ben Rice.

    Conn College is anchored by a stingy zone defense that’s allowed 59.9 points per game, the second-lowest total in the NESCAC.

    A difficult nonconference schedule has prepared the Camels for the postseason. They put up a good fight against both No. 4 Keene State and No. 8 New York University before falling.

    It adds up to the Camels being capable of making a NESCAC tournament championship run. Their only league losses came against top-seeded Williams by three in the regular-season finale and No. 2 Trinity by 13 on Jan. 12.

    Quarterfinal winners advance to the semifinals on Feb. 24, with the title game set for Feb. 25.

    First, they have to get past Amherst, a team that they beat 80-62 on Feb. 2 in New London. They raced out to a 21-point halftime lead and never looked back.

    They’ll be attempting to win their first NESCAC tournament game in 23 years and only second in program history.

    “It’s great that we have the opportunity to do something that really hasn't been done in a while historically,” Murray said. “Obviously, we want to do more. I don’t think we’re done yet.”

    It will be a memorable day for the Camels, regardless of the outcome.

    A big crowd is expected to be on hand to root them on.

    “I think that will be a lot of fun,” Murray said. “I think the Camels are very committed to coming to our games. They show a lot of support. It’s good to have a home game like this for the first playoff games.”

    They’re grateful to be in this position and hope to take advantage of it.

    “We’ve talked a lot about gratitude and trying to go one day at a time,” Sweeney said. “It’s really nice to know that you can keep playing for at least one more day.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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