It seems adversity has been finding Vermont every step of the way this season.Whether it be injuries, suspensions or the lack of depth from players transferring out of the program, the Catamounts struggled to find their footing in November and December. But where many programs would have collapsed, Vermont has found a way to pick up the pace.
Through 24 games last season the Catamounts sat at 14-10; they enter Saturday’s game at Albany with the same record despite all their obstacles.
“We’ve found a way to stay together as a group and kind of look forward to the adversity as a challenge and something to overcome,” senior Ethan O’Day said. “That’s something that’s been key to our season is just not cracking under this adversity, but looking forward to it and looking to overcome it as even a bigger challenge.”
It hasn’t been an easy start to a proud program that has won 20 games in each of the last seven seasons. Zach McRoberts left the team over the summer, while Brendan Kilpatrick transferred out to Division II Philadelphia University. Dre Wills missed eight games due to suspension after selling textbooks. Trae Bell-Haynes, who has been a stalwart all season as a sophomore, but has been limited by an ankle injury.
Thus the team has transformed in O’Day’s final season into a guard oriented group, but how Vermont goes starts and stops with the 6’9 senior.
“When he plays well we play at our best,” head coach John Becker said of O’Day who is averaging 11.9 ppg. “He looks and he feels more comfortable now, knowing and understanding his place amongst this group.”
Nowhere can that be better seen than in conference play where the senior is sixth in scoring (14.8 ppg), sixth in rebounding (7.1 rpg) and tied with Stony Brook senior Jameel Warney in blocks (2.4 per game). O’Day has started to embrace playing around a group of guards, who at times can hurt opponents with three-pointers, but also look to actively feed him inside.
“I feel like we haven’t reached out potential yet, which is good in the sense that you want to be playing your best basketball in March,” O’Day said.
However, the Catamounts are starting to find their stride in the final third of the year. Becker said they played arguably their best game of the season in a 66-50 win over New Hampshire on Jan. 27. Becker said he senses the lone senior’s agenda as O’Day’s career begins to close.
“I think there’s a sense of urgency there,” Becker said. “When he scores and is good, we’re really good.”
As they make the turn toward the second half of round robin play, O’Day has begun to realize the finality of his career and he’s still trying to capture the one goal that has eluded him.
“It’s crazy, I’ve never thought this would be happening, it’s just this year has been flying by and I’m just trying to embrace everything,” O’Day said. “Coach has been telling me that to just can’t give up any practice, any film session, any time just hanging out with the guys, I’m just trying to embrace every moment.”
“We want to play our best basketball in March and we only have one thing on our mind and that’s to win an America East championship.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.