The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Men’s basketball wins seven straight Patriot League games

Junior guard Eric Sondberg takes a shot over a Bucknell defender. (Photo by George Varkanis for GoLeopards)

The men’s basketball team (8-12 overall, 7-0 Patriot League) is embarking on its second miracle run in the last 11 months, as the group has not lost a single Patriot League game after a bleak start to the season.

The last 7-0 conference record for the program came 20 years ago during the 2003-2004 season.

This time last year, the men had been victorious in only three games, losing the remaining 14 through the first half of the season. The team would go on to win eight games to reach the Patriot League Tournament Final, ultimately losing to Colgate in a painful 79-61 contest.

“In previous seasons we’ve had good starts that resulted in first-round losses, and rough starts that resulted in championship play,” senior forward Kyle Jenkins said. “The biggest thing is just taking it one game at a time, moving forward and focusing on the next game.”

This year, the team reached its first conference game of the season on  Jan. 3 with a dismal 1-12 record. The sole win had come against Wilkes University, a NCAA Division III program. Coming off of a nine-game losing streak, the Leopards lacked momentum when they faced Army more than three weeks ago. 

However, Lafayette pulled off a 52-47 triumph to kick off its conference campaign, and hasn’t looked back since. The Leopards are the only remaining undefeated team in the Patriot League as they near the midway point of conference play.

“The team has had a mentality that everyone is 0-0 at the start of conference play and any game is up for grabs,” Jenkins said.

At the beginning of the season, the players knew they had to focus on remaining consistent throughout games. Now, in conference play, it is all starting to come together.

“The only thing that really feels different is that we are closing these games out with wins now,” freshman guard Mark Butler said. “We would be in a lot of non-conference games, winning some of them for a good portion, but just weren’t able to finish with a victory.”

The group’s concentration was on full display against Bucknell last Saturday when the Leopards won 75-72 in overtime. After trailing by over ten points multiple times throughout the game, the Leopards rallied to come within three points with just eight seconds left to play. It was senior guard Eric Sondberg who drained the three-point shot his team needed to tie the game four seconds from the final buzzer. 

“I have to give a lot of credit to my coaches and teammates for that shot,” Sondberg said. “Even though I wasn’t having the best shooting night, they all kept giving me the confidence that the next shot was going to go in.”

Jenkins agrees that head coach Mike McGarvey and his staff played an important role in the moment, drawing up the play during a crucial timeout. 

“We had a great play call for that situation, and were able to really plan the action to get [Sondberg] a good look,” Jenkins said. “It was a big-time shot from him, and I was glad I was able to give him a solid pass.”

The tight contest in overtime saw Lafayette add the sixth win to its spectacular run of form. 

Jenkins ended the game with 15 points, while sophomore guard Ryan Pettit scored 11. Butler racked up 16 points, putting him over the 14-point mark for the fourth game in a row.

“Bucknell played a great game and played with a lot of confidence,” Butler said. “It’s hard to win college basketball games, so we were all excited about getting the win. We faced some serious adversity during that game, but we never quit.”

Despite the hot streak, the experienced Sondberg warned the group against complacency. 

“The morale is definitely high, but we are all aware that every game is going to be a challenge for us,” he said. “We can’t get too comfortable.”

Jenkins said that the student body’s return to campus will positively affect the team’s momentum.  

“I think with students back it definitely gives us a little more of a boost at home games, and even more energy in the gym,” Jenkins said.

Lafayette won its latest conference game on Wednesday night, emerging victorious at Loyola. The final score of 70-44 marked the fourth game in a row in which the Leopards recorded at least 70 points.

The Greyhounds started strong, but the Leopards maintained consistent pressure on the offensive front. After being up by only four points at the half, the Maroon and White put up 40 points in the second half while holding the Greyhounds to 18, walking away with their biggest win of the season to date.

Four Leopards ended the match with double-digit points: Butler, Jenkins, Sondberg and junior guard Luka Savicevic. Butler also added seven assists, the most of any player on the night, earning him Patriot League Rookie of the Week.

Lafayette looks to defend its first-place spot at 2 p.m. on Saturday when Boston University visits Kirby Sports Center.

Correction 1/26/2024: A previous version of this article’s photo caption incorrectly described the photograph.

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Eric Ponieman
Eric Ponieman, Assistant Sports Editor
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