By Daniel Herrick
The men’s basketball team has passed the halfway point of the MIAA season and currently is tied for fourth place with Trine. Each team is 4-4 in the conference.
The top four teams in the conference will qualify for the MIAA post-season tournament with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament at stake. If the season ended today the Hornets would be on the outside looking in due to their 0-1 head-to-head record against Trine.
Despite a 15-point loss at Hope on Monday, the Hornets have won three of their last four games and are increasingly looking like a team that belongs in the conference tournament. The loss to Hope was a disappointment; however, the Hornets only got 13 minutes and eight points out of senior leading-scorer Mark Ghafari due to a partial lateral tear in his left leg meniscus: an injury that is unfortunately becoming all too common in the NBA.
“It happened on a spin move and hook shot in the paint. Right after I knew something was up. I ran up and down the court twice and just hurt too much and then called a timeout and took myself out of the game,” said Ghafari.
The tear will definitely keep him out of action Wednesday night against Olivet. He will see a specialist Wednesday morning before evaluating if he will be able to return and play out the remainder of the year. Normal rehab for the injury, depending on its severity, can take months.
Ghafari isn’t the only notable Hornet to miss time, as of late. Freshman Chase Baysdell returned against Hope to play 21 minutes off the bench after missing the team’s previous two outings due to a violation of team rules. Baysdell is crucial to the Hornets’ success in moving forward. Without him in the lineup, the team desperately lacks in size. This showed during his absence as the Hornets were out-rebounded by 13 in the two games he missed.
Fellow-freshman Adam Dykema is still out for the Hornets after also violating team rules. Dykema can play a crucial role for the Hornets when he’s in the lineup as a bench scorer and possible third option to Ghafari and Adam Peters. Dykema last played against Adrian, a game in which he earned his third career start. In 22 minutes against Calvin earlier in the year, Dykema flashed his overall skill-set as he scored 18 points on 7-12 shooting. His play on the defensive end is faulty at times, not out of the ordinary for a young player, but Dykema’s willingness to shoot the ball with confidence from all over the floor is an asset the Hornets love to have. With Ghafari potentially out(or limited), Dykema’s ability to create on the perimeter will become even more vital to the Hornets attack. He is expected to return a week from Wednesday.
Junior Carter Goetz is proving his worth as an important bench piece for this Hornets team as well. Goetz played 26 minutes at Hope on Monday and scored nine points on 4-11 shooting. The eleven shots were his highest total since he took 12 in the January 2 game against IPFW. Goetz’s nine points were also his highest since that day. Though he is still struggling at times, for example a scoreless outing against Albion on Saturday, Goetz has shown a willingness to attack the basket when looking to score. Another Hornet being able to get into the lane can help to open the floor up more.
The Hornets will play two games this week, both nearly must-win games. On Wednesday night, the Hornets host a 1-6 Olivet team at 8:00 PM. The Comets’ one MIAA victory came via an overtime win on January 9 at Adrian. Ghafari and Peters combined for 57 points on 18-31 shooting in the Hornets first meeting with Olivet this season.
On Saturday, the Hornets will host Trine in a game that will carry serious effects for the MIAA postseason race. Calvin and Hope seem like locks for the tournament as each is currently carrying a 7-1 record. Alma, Adrian and Olivet almost surely will not qualify as the three bottom teams in the MIAA have combined for just four conference wins thus far. The Scots have the best opportunity of the group with games still remaining vs. Albion (whom they beat earlier in the year), vs. Olivet, at Olivet and at Adrian.
However, the race for the last two tournament spots is increasingly looking like it will come down to three teams: Kalamazoo, Albion and Trine.
As the three teams are all within one game of each other, every game from here on out is bordering on must-win status. The Hornets cannot afford to drop any of their remaining games, especially against the conference’s bottom-rung teams: Olivet, Adrian and Alma.
“I think every game is a must-win at this point,” said Ghafari. “We can only control the outcome of our games, so as long as we take care of business we should be in the top four once the regular season is over.”
The race for the tournament continues on Wednesday at 8:00 against Olivet and will continue in the Anderson Athletic Center on Saturday when the Hornets host Trine at 3:00 PM.