Ashland men work to overcome mid-season slump



Center Drew Noble squares up against Grand Valley State players.

Paul Murray, Reporter

The Ashland University men’s basketball team started this season as if they were shot out of a cannon, flying high and winning their first six games.

At the height of this stretch, the team was ranked No. 10 in the nation and blowing teams out by huge margins.108-39 against Ohio-Chillicothe, 98-74 against Alderson Broaddus – the list goes on.

Seniors Drew Noble and Rodrick Caldwell were picking up right where they left off from last season. Freshman Brandon Haraway was scoring at will, and Ethan Conley was leading the conference in 3-point percentage.

On Dec. 5 against conference foe Lake Superior State, the Eagles began to lose some momentum.
The 99-69 loss was their first of the season and was also their first time playing a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponent. The in-conference defense proved to be difficult for the Eagles.

“We came in with a lot of expectations, and at first we met them,” head men’s basketball coach John Ellenwood said. “Then we got into league play. Defensively they were able to shut down what we wanted to do.”

After the Lake Superior State game, the Eagles dropped seven of their next eight. Buckets that came easy early on were getting more difficult, and the team kept falling just short of victory.

Against Grand Valley State on Jan. 9, The Eagles trailed by 18 points in the last five minutes. Clutch 3-point shots from junior Aaron Thompson and Rodrick Caldwell brought the game within two, and Ethan Conley tied the game with three minutes remaining. But Grand Valley rallied late, winning 69-63.

“We fought to come back, we fought hard. I’m proud of the way they battled, but we have to finish games. We need to make those winning plays down the stretch,” Ellenwood said.

Although the team suffered some devastating losses, they have kept positive during the downspell.

“Our main focus has been to stay together,” Noble said. “The biggest mistake a team can make when going through a slump is to splinter. Our focus has been to control what we can control and fight for each other because we are a family.”

After a loss to Davenport, Ellenwood felt that the team’s confidence began to slip. To combat this, he implemented a new drill in practice.
“Win the next possession” and “win the round” became the theme of the men’s practices. Ellenwood would put four minutes on the clock, draw up a scenario for the offense, and give them the task of winning for those next four minutes.

The mentality is to simplify the game and produce more confidence in the players, Ellenwood said. Only focusing on winning in those few minutes, rather than focusing on the full game. With each win of a round, the taste of victory would become more and more contagious.

The plan came to fruition on Jan. 16 against Purdue Northwest as the Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak, beating the Pride 76-74. Noble scored 20 points while also contributing tremendously defensively, adding three steals and two blocks to the stat sheet.

“Defense has and always will be the most important thing to me,” Noble said. “Regardless of whether the shots are falling or not, you can always shut down your guy and effect the outcome of the game.”

Noble hoped this win would serve as a turning point for the Eagles, as it was their first conference victory of the season. The victory brought the Eagles back to an even record at 8-8, a mark that serves as a refresher point for most teams who are struggling.

Despite the moment of solace, the team lost their next game at Parkside, another GLIAC contender, bringing their overall record to 8-9, 1-8 in conference play.

The path ahead looks just as difficult. Road games at Davenport, Grand Valley and Saginaw Valley State are just on the horizon, as the GLIAC tournament nears closer and closer.

Regardless, the Eagles and are confident and optimistic looking forward into the season.

“Once we begin to get that taste of victory, it will all come back,” said Ellenwood

The Eagles will hit the court next on Jan. 25 at 3:00 p.m. against Saginaw Valley State in Kates Gymnasium.