In late October, the head coaches of Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) predicted that Trinity’s men’s basketball team would win the conference. The Tigers looked poised to contend for the conference title and an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament with two returning All-SCAC honorees. However, the Tigers have won only three games this season.
The four returning senior forwards — Danny Rivara, the 2017–18 SCAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year; Isaiah Specks, Matthew Colliflower and Aaron Knopp — secure Trinity’s frontcourt. Despite the seniors’ high basketball IQs and experience, Trinity has lost many close games this season. Trinity had a lead of at least two possessions at some point during the ballgame in eight of their 14 losses.
“It is very tough seeing us at the spot we are in right now,” Specks said. “Just knowing that me, Danny [Rivara], all the [other] seniors and all the juniors have put in so much work to get to this point, and it’s hard seeing us not get [the victories we deserve].”
The Tigers failed to register a win during a tough non-conference portion of the schedule, which included match-ups against No. 18 University of Christopher Newport and No. 6 Whitworth University. After a loss to Wilmington College (OH) on Nov. 18, head coach Pat Cunningham began to experiment with the starting lineup by letting Colliflower and Knopp enter the game off the bench.
After another loss to University of Texas-Dallas on Nov. 25, Cunningham decided to remove Specks from the starting lineup and replace him with first-year Jordan Lippman. Cunningham tried to find the right rotation that allowed the team to begin the game with enough energy and solid team chemistry.
“Our starting lineup has been pretty fluid this year, as with any team trying to find the best rotation to give the team the best possible chance to win,” said Ross Burt, assistant coach for the Tigers.
So far, 12 different players have started at least one game, including three first-years. First-year point guard A.J. Clark entered the starting lineup following the loss to Wilmington College (OH). His sudden promotion to a starting role in only his fourth collegiate basketball game caught him off guard.
“Initially it did [surprise me], but the more I started playing the first couple games, the more I became confident in the system,” Clark said. “After the second or third game, I started to feel more comfortable and felt ready for it.”
Specks didn’t expect to have his starting spot taken by a first-year.
“As a senior, you never want to see your spot taken,” Specks said. “I knew I was one of the best players in the conference, and I didn’t really understand it. I thought it would hurt our team, but it made our [first-years] step up. I was glad to see that they stepped up in my decrease of minutes.”
Specks also noted the high skill level of this year’s first-year class.
“It is so hard to be a first-year and be in the roles that they are in,” Specks said. “That’s just kinda hard on them, but they are so athletic as a class. Their skill level is above anybody else’s freshman class in the conference. By the time they are sophomores or juniors, they are gonna be ready to destroy the nation.”
Injuries have also forced Cunningham to alter the starting lineup.
“Every team goes through injury adjustments, as basketball is a long season, so I wouldn’t say it’s something we’ve had to deal with any more than other teams,” Burt said. “Ideally, we’d love to have everyone healthy each night to have consistency, but that’s the nature of the college game.”
Part of Trinity’s valuable experience vanished when Rivara had to miss multiple games with ankle injuries and a cut on his eyelid.
“It started off with an injury to probably our best player, Danny [Rivara]. That got us off to a slow start,” Clark said. “We were having trouble scoring. Once he came back, we got back on rhythm.”
Trinity won its first two conference games against Austin College and Centenary College, but then fell in the next five SCAC match-ups despite shooting over 40 percent from the field. Trinity also made more field goals than their opponent four out of five times, yet could not close the door for whatever reason.
“It’s been a unique past few weeks as we haven’t won, but because of different reasons,” Burt said. “Right now, it’s a matter of focusing on the little things we can control like effort, defense, sharing the basketball. Free throws haven’t been an issue for us this season until lately, so we just need to remain confident when we get to the line.”
On Saturday, Jan. 19, Trinity notched its first home win and third conference victory with a dominant performance over Colorado College. Their 3–5 conference record is good enough for seventh in the SCAC. With almost half of the conference games yet to be played, the Tigers have plenty of time to move up in the standings.
“Our conference takes the six top teams to the tournament, then the winner of that gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament,” Burt said. “We believe if this team continues to play together, defend well and begin to make a few more shots, we have a great chance at winning the conference.”
The Tigers will play next at Texas Lutheran University at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26.
| Class of 2021 | Majors: Neuroscience |