Men’s basketball enters heart of conference schedule

by Bryan GeelanStaff Writer

While most Simpson students were at home during break, enjoying home-cooked meals and opening a present or two, the men’s basketball team was in sun-soaked Arizona competing in a holiday tournament.

The men took first place in the Cactus Jam Tournament. There is no rest for the weary, however, as shortly following the tournament the men jumped into the heart of their conference schedule.

At the Cactus Jam Tournament, Simpson defeated Mount Union, Ramapo and Edgewood on their way to capturing the title. For his efforts in the tournament, senior Ryan Hittenmiller was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after averaging more than 22 points in the three games.

“We executed our offense really well and played good defense,” Hittenmiller said. “It seemed like every time we ran a play we’d be wide open.”

Including their performance at the holiday tournament, the Storm has been able to compile an impressive record against non-conference opponents, as the team currently sits at 7-2.

“It’s always easier to play against people that don’t know you very well,” Head Coach Bruce Wilson said. “They don’t know your strengths and weaknesses as much as the conference schools, but also we don’t know them as well either so it’s kind of a catch-22 in that regard.”

Wilson cited that a major reason for the team’s success in Arizona was its great defensive effort.

“Our defense got stops–we were able to get our transition game going a little bit,” Wilson said. “We were really on attack mode. Our depth played a factor in all three of those games; I just felt we really wore people out.”

Following the Cactus Jam Tournament, which ended on Dec. 30, the team took long road trips to Storm Lake and Dubuque to resume Iowa Conference play.

The Storm did not receive a warm welcome upon their return to Iowa, as they suffered back-to-back losses to Buena Vista University and the University of Dubuque. The Beavers defeated the Storm 81-66 while the Spartans knocked them off 81-68.

“We seemed a step slow that entire night (against Buena Vista), and shot 23 percent during the first half,” Wilson said. “You can’t allow yourself to get in those holes, especially on the road. Then we turned around at Dubuque and did the same thing.”

However, Simpson wasn’t down for long. With the second semester underway, the Storm was able to bounce back following the disappointing losses and rattle off three victories in a row. Simpson defeated Wartburg at home 72-64, then went on the road to beat Luther 51-50 and Central 83-65.

“Our depth is very crucial,” Assistant Coach Tyler Erwin said. “Our last five guys are just as important as our first five.”

A key theme for the Storm in those victories was the performance of the players coming off of the bench.

“Lyndon Hawkins and Jeff Travis are seniors that are not starters but they give us so much stability,” Wilson said. “They are very steady. I know when I put them on the court that they are going to play defense and are going to give great effort.”

Hawkins will see a magnified role in the upcoming games as fellow senior Jason Soppe came down with a foot injury during the loss to Coe on Jan. 17. Simpson fell at home to the Kohawks, 76-68.

Hawkins will start in place of Soppe and try to replace his production. Soppe averages 13.6 points per game and 7.8 rebounds. Soppe had also recorded 28 blocks on the year, placing him second in the conference behind sophomore teammate David Ferezy’s 29 blocks.

So far, Hawkins has proved a suitable replacement for Soppe, getting the first start of his career against Cornell on Jan. 20. Hawkins recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. He also proved himself to be a defensive presence, as he chipped in three blocked shots. Simpson defended its home court well as the men cruised past the Rams by a final score of 80-60.

Having completed the first time through the conference schedule, the Storm will look to improve upon their 4-4 record in Iowa Conference play.

“The conference season is a marathon,” Wilson said. “Coming in to the last week of conference play we want to have the opportunity to be in a position where we can win the conference.”