The regular season of the men’s basketball team concluded last Sunday, Feb. 17, following a major victory on the road against Ithaca college, 66-54. The win meant that the team avenged their close loss to Ithaca at home in December, and, more important, it ensured that the team would be heading to the Liberty League playoffs as the sixth seed. Ultimately, the game capped off a regular season that was marked by an equal share of impressive conference victories and close losses.
After suffering a few early conference losses and a difficult out-of-conference schedule during the first half of the season, it was clear that VC’s road to a playoff bid would require a turnaround of sorts down the latter half of conference play. And while the team dropped its first seven games before the winter break, things changed when games picked up again in late December. After losing their first game back, the team won four out of the next five and never looked back after that stretch.
For any team, a winless eight-game stretch to start the season would make earning a playoff bid seem unlikely. But it was Vassar’s play in pivotal league games that would allow them to grab the final playoff spot. Ultimately, they won the games that mattered the most.
Throughout the second half of the season, it became apparent that there would be multiple teams vying for the final two spots of the six-team league playoffs. Matchups against Skidmore, RPI, Clarkson and Bard would become increasingly crucial games with playoff implications. This is when the team played their best basketball. Vassar went an impressive 7-1, sweeping the season series against RPI, Skidmore and Bard. The only loss of these games was a close 7-point contest on the road against Clarkson. Vassar also posted a plus/minus differential of +27 in these contests (+3.375 per game).
The team was unequivocally led by senior Captain Jesse Browne, Vassar men’s most recent 1,000-point scorer. At an average of 15.6 points per game, Browne stands at eighth in the Liberty League in field goal percentage and eighth in scoring, having contributed 21.9 percent of Vassar’s points on the year. Browne also had a major impact from behind the arch, posting an average of 2.5 three-pointers per game average, which ties him tied for fifth in the league. Also providing major on-court leadership this season was 6’10’’ big man Paul Grinde. At 7.9 rebounds per game, Grinde was fifth in the conference in rebounding and contributed 22.5 percent of the team’s total rebounds on the season. He also posted 14.4 points per game, putting him at 12th in the league.
Along with strong showings by upperclassmen, the most exciting aspect of the season may have been the contributions of the rookie class. The group of first-years on the team included Lance Tebay, Zach Bromfeld, BJ White and Hugh Durham, and at one point or another each of these athletes showed just how high the potential of this team is in the future.
On paper the group speaks for themselves. Zach Bromfeld finished fourth on the team in scoring at 8.1 points per game and second on the team in rebounding at 5.5 boards per game. Bromfeld also took home multiple Liberty League Rookie of the Week accolades to go along with his on-court contributions. Lance Tebay finished fifth on the team in scoring at 7.1 points per game, fourth on the team in rebounds with 4.2 per game, and knocked down an impressive 34 three pointers, placing him second on the team in total three-point field goals. Combined, Bromfeld and Tebay started 36 games for Vassar (with Bromfeld getting 19 starts and Tebay getting 17), a number only matched in recent years by that of Grinde’s and Alex Seff’s rookie start totals. Despite suffering an injury that sidelined him for the first part of the season, White added to the strong rookie class by making significant contributions off the bench. White finished with an average of 6.3 points per game and also had the highest shooting percentage from behind the arch among players with at least 15 three-point field goal attempts.
In a similar vein to Browne’s leadership and Grinde’s physical presence beneath the boards, Vassar’s group of first-years goes beyond the stat line in many ways that provide a perfect example of why numbers alone can’t define a player. The three free-throws knocked down by White as time expired against Skidmore showed his ability to play under pressure in clutch situations. Despite suffering injury problems late in the season, Hugh Durham’s big game against Williams showed his potential to be a key role player in future seasons.
Ultimately, while the absence of Browne and fellow senior Tony Coletti will certainly be felt both on and off the court in the following seasons, many key pieces will be returning next year, putting the team in a good position to repeat another playoff visit. The leadership role will certainly be filled well by Grinde and Seff, while the many returning underclassmen, such as Owen Murray (third on the team in both assists and rebounds), Josh Brownridge and the aforementioned group of first-years will provide the team with valuable depth. By the numbers, Vassar’s cumulative points per game by returning athletes not only matches but exceeds that of some of the conference’s other top teams. Going forward, the team will have a very solid foundation for not only continued league playoff appearances, but also deep playoff (and even NCAA tournament) runs.