It isn’t often I get to watch Wednesday night Truman basketball.
With deadline coverage for the Index, homework in the back of my mind and a late night ahead of me, I generally stay in the newsroom, pounding away at the section so I can leave at a decent hour. But I found the time two weeks ago to catch the second half of the mens’ game against Northwest Missouri State University, and that’s when it hit me.
The mens basketball team clearly has a bright future ahead.
There I stood in the press box in Pershing Arena as the game was sent to first overtime and I wasn’t expecting much from the Bulldogs. They had blown a solid lead and the Bearcats had forced the game into overtime. Throughout the extra time, it was obvious the No. 14 Bearcats had the momentum. However, junior guard Tom Norton’s deep three-point shot as the clock winded down to tie the game and send it to a second overtime not only shocked the small home crowd, it made a statement.
Never mind the Bulldogs lost that game during the second overtime, and never mind that the men are done for the season, barely losing to UCM during the final game of the regular season game, a game that could’ve sent them to the MIAA tournament had they won. This team is on the rise, and the way I see it, it all starts with head coach Matt Woodley.
When former coach Jack Schrader stepped down from the helm of the program, the troublesome past of Bulldog basketball left with him. What I’ve since seen from this team since is a fire only Woodley could ignite.
With a young roster, first-year coach and coming off a spectacularly mediocre, seven-win season, I have to say I wasn’t expecting an MIAA championship. So what I looked for this year from the young squad was progress and a renewed sense of passion — the mens basketball team delivered on both accounts.
What I observed from this team was a rise in team basketball combined with solid scoring efforts from the Bulldog leaders. It had been 8 years since Truman had seen a 30-point performance from one of its players and this season, the ’Dogs had not one, but three players reach that mark, all during the season’s final weeks.
A slow start to the season from the team was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome in the end, but that didn’t take away from the late-season drama. The Bulldogs battled to score the eighth seed in the conference tournament, a feat that seemed completely out of the question mid-season. Though, it was their young roster that plagued them in the end.
The lack of experience on the court was evident for the Bulldogs, as they struggled to put things together late in the game. However, what they lack in experience, they make up for in promise. The program is returning all but one of its players next season and Norton provides the leadership needed to take this team to new heights. Norton’s shot-making ability, combined with his poise and control on the court, will serve as the backbone for the Bulldog’s rise.
If you add sophomore guard Isaac Gardner’s smooth, record-setting shot into the mix, and freshman guard Seth Jackson’s ability to drive to the hole, you have a roster that can only grow. This season’s 8-20 finish was the highest win total for the ’Dogs since 2007, which isn’t saying much. However, the Bulldogs had a lot of games slip away during the final minutes this year, and with the team gaining experience, the fourth quarter woes will fix themselves.
What Woodley brings to the table is Div. I coaching experience and a will to win, which the Bulldogs haven’t seen from a coach in a long time. The system he brought to Truman allows for Bulldog scorers to do just that — score. Instead of strictly following a team-first, disciplined system, Woodley has given the green light to Gardner and others to do what they do best, which has allowed the team to flourish in the stats column.
I know we always harp on students to give Truman athletics a chance, but the problem with that is a team has to win to gain support. Basketball games this season have been marked by empty bleachers in the student section and a lack of home-court advantage, with the only audible yells coming from the pep band.
This team is different, though. This team has a future, and that comes from the young roster gaining valuable experience this season. So, with the season ended and a fresh outlook on the horizon, I can promise you this — mediocrity no longer will be a common theme in Pershing Arena.