Experience, minimizing mistakes helping UMD Men’s basketball program to stay competitive
After an injury-plagued season, the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s basketball team has rebounded well in its 2017-18 campaign.
Last year, the Bulldogs finished at the bottom of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference North Division standings with a 3-19 conference record (4-25 overall).
Now, with nine games remaining, UMD sits with a 9-10 record (5-8 NSIC). At this point last season, the Bulldogs had already lost five straight in what would become a program-worst 14-game losing skid to end the regular season.
Head coach Matt Bowen and crew graduated only one player, Charles Benson – the team’s leading rebounder – but retained the bulk of their scorers. UMD also welcomed back redshirt sophomore guard Trevor Entwisle. Entwisle averaged 8.5 points per game (PPG) on 39.6 percent shooting, and 48 percent from beyond the arc, in six games before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with an injury.
“We’ve improved a significant amount,” Bowen said. “We’ve gotten older. When you start adding up starting line-ups and experience, we’re still the youngest team in the league.
“But we’ve created an identity with some guys with some consistent play. We’re getting better. We continue to improve and that’s resulted in a significant amount of more wins.”
This year, Entwisle has been one of just five Bulldogs to have played in every match-up and just one of three players to start every game. The other two, sophomore forward Brandon Myer (20 PPG) and sophomore guard Logan Rohrscheib (13.8 PPG), lead the way in scoring for UMD. If Myer can keep scoring at this pace, he would be one of just two Bulldogs in the last 17 seasons to finish with an average of 20 PPG or higher (2015-16, Pierre Newton – 20.5 PPG).
“I think the main thing is having a season under our belt,” Entwisle said. “There was a lot of freshmen last year, and even this year we’re struggling with Mamadou and Luke out. But I think the big thing is confidence. We’re more confident out there. I mean you see Brandon’s numbers.”
UMD’s roster has boasted just two healthy seniors in Kyle Schalow and Jake Wilson, four juniors and nine underclassmen (five sophomores, four freshmen) this year.
Bowen said one of the keys to success this season has been being able to consistently keep players in certain positions. With the injuries that mounted up last season, Bowen and staff had to make do with what they had by putting players in spots they might not have otherwise put them in.
In 2016-17, through the first 19 games, Myer – who played in only 13 of the first 19 ‒ averaged 7.8 PPG, while leading the team in offensive rebounds (22), blocks (10) and tied for a team-high with 10 steals.
The 6-foot-7 forward out of Superior, Wisconsin has been a driving force in the Bulldogs’ success so far on the season. Myer leads the team in shooting percentage (49.6 percent), free throws made (83) and taken (100), rebounds (132), and blocks (19). He’s also scored 20-plus points in 10 of his last 12 games, and 11 times this season.
“Last year was a get-to-know-the-league year, and that was really good for me,” Myer said. “I think my role has grown … It was just time to step up and trust all the work that I’ve put in. So I think my role has grown in all areas. It’s more pressure. It’s also more satisfying.”
In addition to his statistical accolades, Myer has also accumulated two NSIC North Division Player of the Week awards this year.
While Myer provides the spark in the Bulldogs’ offense, it has been a combined effort by the team of rarely turning the ball over that has been a major factor in keeping them competitive in games.
UMD ranks seventh in the NSIC in assist-turnover ratio with 1.32, and ranks 43rd in all of NCAA Division-II men’s basketball. Although the Bulldogs rank 14th in NSIC with just 11.6 assists per game, they play to their strengths by not turning the ball over. UMD ranks fourth in all of NCAA Div-II men’s basketball having coughed up the ball just 168 times.
The Bulldogs sit alone at the top of the NSIC by turning the ball over only 8.8 times per game.
Minot State holds the second place spot averaging 9.7 per game.
As the season winds down, UMD plays five of its next seven games at home before ending the season on the road. In their past 10 games, the Bulldogs have gone 7-3 after starting the season 1-8. Now with nine games remaining, UMD has an opportunity to finish with its best record since the 2008-09 season (20-11; 14-6 NSIC).