By Graham Lucas
Sweat drips from the head, sharp echoes of rubber heels cut across polished hardwood, gasps of air after the last suicide; these are sounds of Bishops basketball practice.
Along with blood, sweat and tears, men’s basketball Head Coach Mike DeWitt has an already hot Bishops team poised for postseason success.
Up to this point, the Bishops are second in the conference standings behind Wooster who is still undefeated in conference play. OWU’s success is largely due to their strong senior play and sparks from first year players.
Junior guard and transfer student Taylor Rieger and freshman forward Claude Gray have offered more scoring options to a Bishops squad which ranks first in the conference in points per game.
“They’re both offensively skilled, which gives Andy (Winters) and Eric (Easley) more options to pass to,” DeWitt said.
Although the team does not rank in the top three for shooting percentage, they rank first in blocks and least amount of turnovers. The Bishops also rank second in the conference in assists, rebounds and steals.
“We don’t need to be the best shooting team as long as we play tough defense and take care of the ball,” senior guard Vaughn Spaulding said.
The heap of assist and gentle care of the basketball can be attributed to senior guard Andy Winters who leads the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) with 130 assists, 41 more than the next man.
“Everyone on our team is capable of making plays,” Winters said. “Players have strengths and weaknesses but we are confident in each one of our teammates’ abilities in the post or out on the perimeter. That’s what makes our team unique.”
The Bishops record currently stands at 14-4, with a 7-3 conference mark.
Last year, in the first 18 games, the Bishops held an identical 14-4 record. They finished with a 20-8 record after losing to Hobart and Smith College in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Since 2008, DeWitt has guided his teams to two second-place conference finishes and two third-place conference finishes. DeWitt also led the Bishops to win two NCAC championships and an NCAC tournament title.
The team still has meaningful contest against conference foes Wittenberg and Wooster. Their last six games will decide NCAA tournament implications, and their final ranking in the NCAC.
“We have high expectations and aspirations to win out the season, maybe an NCAC title, or NCAA title,” DeWitt said. “If these guys keep playing consistently, we’ll be fine.”
The Bishops’ next contest is against Oberlin at Branch Rickey Arena this Saturday, Feb. 2.