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Men’s Basketball 4-0, opens MWC season at home

By Max Calenberg

The Grinnell Men’s Basketball team is off to a 4-0 start to their season. With all of their victories against non-conference opponents, the Men will face their first true test with two games at home this weekend against Midwest Conference heavyweights St. Nobert and Ripon Colleges.

Griffin Lentsch ’13 shoots during practice on Wednesday, Nov. 30.

Up to this point the squad has impressively run their fast paced high scoring “System” offensive to victories against William Penn University, Wartburg, Presentation, and Principia College 150-137, 115-97, 126-98 and 145-97, respectively.

“I think we’ve been playing great basketball. We expected to be good but we didn’t expect to be this good earlier on. Especially against William Penn, that was a big win for us because now we know that we can beat anybody,” said Co-Captain Matt Skelly ’12. “Those guys were good and they were athletic and they were just the type of team that we have a problem with.”

The success of the Pioneers so far has truly been a team effort.

“We’ve gotten contributions from a lot of different players. Like aside from Griffin, who we know is going to handle a large portion of the scoring for us, you look at our season box score and there’s eight or 10 other guys that on any given night could score a lot of points,” said Assistant Coach David N. Arseneault ’09.

That diversity of offensive weapons brings both advantages and concerns.

“It makes it tough for other teams to scout us when the points are broken up like that,” Arseneault said.  “I would be more comfortable if I knew where our scoring was going to come from outside of Griffin but as long as it keeps coming from a number of different people then I’m happy with it.”

The consistent scorer, Griffin Lentsch ‘13 put up 89 points in the Principia game, making National headlines and shattering the old NCAA DIII record of 77, previously held by Grinnellian Jeff Clement ‘99. His performance came as the result of an experiment to give Lentsch substantially more playing time which is usually limited by rapid substitutions of “shifts” of players, similar to hockey, to allow them to rest.

Although the venture turned out well in the end, the start was far from smooth.

“He came out of the gate terribly and couldn’t buy a bucket and about the 10-minute mark he got hot,” Arseneault said. “I think maybe felt a little bit more pressure knowing that he was going to play more minutes and thinking he should be putting up a big number.”

“I definitely felt pressure. This has happened in the past and sometimes if people aren’t shooting well we won’t do it. But I started shooting better,” Lentsch said. “So, I just kept shooting.”

Once he kept shooting, his teammates made sure to give him every opportunity possible.

“With each ensuing basket in the second half the bench just got louder and louder and guys recognize that he’s hot and they’re just totally deferring and passing up shots and getting him the ball for a second look,” Arseneault said.

Even though their names don’t go into the record books, the importance of his teammates’ role is not lost on Lentsch.

“I was just thankful for my teammates and coaches to give me the opportunity, to set me up to do it,” Lentsch said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Focusing on this weekend, Coach Arseneault knows the men have a tough two games head of them, though for very different reasons.

“St. Norbert is probably the best defensive team we’re going to see all year. They’re just going to make us work for everything that we get,” Arseneault said. “I think the key to the game is going to be that we offensive rebound so we can cover ourselves because we’re probably not going to shoot a high percentage from the floor just given defense they’re going to play against us….if we can have some energy and effort just to get on the class we can cover ourselves by getting more shot attempts.

Based on past matchups, Saturday’s game against Ripon promises to be a more of an offensive spectacle in true System form.

“In the past, they’ve just tried to outscore us and they look to run. As soon as we score, bang, they’re gone the other direction,” Arseneault said. “And they have a great offensive player [in Aris Wurtz], probably the pre-season Conference player, of the year coming in here so we’re going to some things a little differently to try and take him away.”

Despite all that’s happened in the beginning of their season, Arsenault knows this is the weekend when games critical to an outstanding season start.

“I think in this league the key to success has always been, if you can win your home games and split on the road, that’s the recipe for a conference title,” Arseneault said. “I know that we have one of the biggest home court advantages given our location and distance from other people but also given the fans that we get out to the games because the student section is always great and community support is always great.”

The Pioneers play St. Norbert College on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. and Ripon College the following day, Saturday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. Both games are in Darby Gymnasium.

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