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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Men’s basketball hopes this season will be a layup

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Olivia Reid
Men’s basketball at a home game at the end of their 2022-2023 season. Photo by Olivia Reid / Photography Editor.

They’re playing basketball, they love that basketball. The Celtics may be getting all the hype right now as the team to beat in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean UMass Boston Men’s Basketball doesn’t deserve any love thrown their way, especially when they may arguably be the team to beat this year in the Little East Conference. Last year, the Beacons made it rain and were nearly unstoppable for a full calendar month, but the biggest storm was yet to come, and they ended up getting caught in murky waters during the worst possible time.

Men’s basketball’s 2022 schedule showed exactly how ludicrous the Beacons played when they were in midseason form, as they lit up opposing teams on a nightly basis and ripped off an eight-game winning streak from Dec. 8 to Jan. 11. However, their stay on cloud nine didn’t last long, and the team soon fell back to Earth, hitting the hardwood rather harshly by dropping eight of their final 11 games, including a season concluding four-game skid. [1] Now, they hope to rebound from their blunder and roll with the changes this year brings. If they want to build some chemistry on the court, it’s imperative that some of last year’s role players fill the massive shoes put forth from players of the past.

Arguably, the biggest loss the Beacons had this offseason was standout forward Malik Lorquet, who averaged a double-double in 2022; the paint beast put up 18.9 points per game while coming down with 13.4 boards. He also accumulated numerous accolades—such as reaching the 1,000-point plateau—and became the incumbent record holder for both single season rebounds and all-time rebounds in program history, as noted by Beacons Athletics. [2] 

The presence of the second team All-Region player will be missed, especially his ability to be a spark for the Beacons’ electric offense by cleaning the glass consistently and hitting tough shots up close. Thankfully, some of the Beacons’ bench from last year presented flashes of dominance, and if given the opportunity, may run with the starting job left behind by Lorquet. 

A couple of forwards to keep an eye on are Connor Walden and Ike Eluwa. Walden didn’t play too much in 2022, averaging only 9.4 minutes per game—as seen on his player profile—but he made the most of his chances when his name was called. In a career high, 26 minutes played against Western Connecticut State University, the sophomore carried the load on the offensive side of the floor for the Beacons, scoring a statline of 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and one steal, all of which were personal bests for Walden. [3] 

According to Beacons Athletics, Eluwa was in a similar position last year, starting in only four games for UMass Boston. When he was on the floor for an extended period of time, he was a sight to see; Eluwa dropped a career high of 21 points in 30 minutes against Eastern Connecticut State University, and also grabbed 10 rebounds in a match against WestConn. If that wasn’t enough to garner optimism for the future of this squad, then knowing the Beacons got the best of both worlds whenever Eluwa was on the floor may sway some thoughts surrounding the state of the program. Not only did Eluwa lead the team in three-point percentage—shooting 44 percent from downtown—he’s a stonewall defender as well. He averaged over one steal per game in his limited time on the floor, his greatest mark in that front coming in a match against Rhode Island College where he snatched five balls from the Anchormen. 

It’s safe to say Walden and Eluwa will undoubtedly mesh well with the Beacons’ starters, but the teams’ biggest stars were lights out in their own right. With the front court now occupied with some young studs, it’ll leave room for the Beacons’ elite, experienced backcourt to take the reigns as the top contributors on the team, and based on how they fared in 2022, the Beacons look like they’ll be in good hands with guards Xavier McKenzie, Emmanuel Zayas and Bobby Joy running the offense. 

McKenzie was a two-headed monster during his freshman campaign in 2022, averaging 14.3 points per game, alongside two steals on the defensive end. He had eye-popping career highs on offense with 31 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and proved himself as a lockdown defender, once totaling three blocks and eight steals in a game—the latter of which was in his UMass Boston debut against Bridgewater State University. McKenzie’s endurance was also a key factor in the Beacons’ 2022 success, as the unofficial iron man of the group averaged an absurd 35.3 minutes per game, as noted by Beacons Athletics. [5] 

Zayas was the other starting guard for the Beacons, and he was a two-way star in his own right, netting a career high 25 points in a match against Salem State University, and, as seen on Beacons Athletics, led the team last year with 50 three pointers, 3.4 assists per game and 46 steals. [6] Joy’s role as the Beacons’ sixth man paid off; his high-profile scoring off the bench played a pivotal part in the groups’ success. His ability to knock down three pointers consistently kept the Beacons in the game, and he’s proven he can be clutch in crunch time as well. He once single-handedly carried the Beacons to a win over Southern Maine University by knocking down six free throws in the final two minutes; that’s one of his signature moments noted on his Beacons Athletics profile. [7]

The Beacons rumbled through 2022 with some extreme highs and lows, but this year, they have a lot to show for. Their legitimate shot for the LEC Championship ended abruptly, and their sloppy play down the stretch caused a slippery slope that inevitably cost them. Frankly, moving forward without one of their biggest stars in Lorquet will be a massive hurdle for them, but their bright young talent can carry the load Lorquet left behind. If anything, giving these forwards more playing time will be a learning experience not only for them, but the team as a whole. Like always, there’ll be growing pains, but it looks like the Beacons will set their feet and get back on top, and if they shoot for the stars, who knows, maybe they’ll find themselves playing for a conference championship in the spring semester. 

Beacons Athletics’ schedule shows that men’s basketball will play their season opener on the road against Eastern Nazarene College this coming Friday, Nov. 10, and will travel back to Clark Athletic Center for the first time this season the following Wednesday, Nov. 14 for a game against Salve Regina. [8] Take a break from the stresses of class and watch the Beacons fend their home court against the Seahawks, because this year’s team will certainly be one you’ll want to watch from the stands. 

 

[1] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/schedule/2022-23

[2] https://beaconsathletics.com/news/2023/3/14/mens-basketball-lorquet-earns-all-region-honors.aspx

[3] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/roster/connor-walden/3709

[4] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/roster/ike-eluwa/3700

[5] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/roster/xavier-mckenzie/3708

[6] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/roster/emanuel-zayas/3704

[7] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/roster/bobby-joy/3702

[8] https://beaconsathletics.com/sports/mens-basketball/schedule

About the Contributors
Nick Collins, Sports Editor
Olivia Reid, Photo Editor