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TMC men's preview: Continuing education

Mustangs have kept momentum going this season after strong finish last season

Posted: December 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 6, 2011 1:55 a.m.

(From left to right) Paul Brown, Leif Karlberg, Devin Dyer and Anthony Cammon are key members of the 2011-12 men’s basketball team at The Master’s College. The Mustangs are off to a 6-1 start this fall after winning four of their last five games to end last season.

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What began less than 11 months ago might finally be paying off.

At that point, The Master’s College men’s basketball team was going through what head coach Chuck Martin described as the worst stretch of his coaching career.

The team had lost seven straight games and was sitting near the bottom of the Golden State Athletic Conference standings.

Rather than packing it in and calling it a lost season, Martin seized the opportunity to learn something from it.

“We really tried to convince these kids that the tough times we were going through had to have some kind of benefit,” Martin said, “whether it was the end of last year or the continuation of this year, because we knew we were good.”

The players apparently bought into their coach’s message, as TMC ended up winning four of its last five games to close out the season, including a victory over Azusa Pacific, which was ranked sixth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics poll at the time.

Translate that to this season, and the Mustangs are showing no signs of slowing down at 6-1 behind a defense that has stifled opponents thus far.

Coming into the week, TMC is the No. 1 team in NAIA Division I for defensive field goal percentage and No. 2 in scoring defense, limiting teams to 32.9 percent shooting and 55 points per game, respectively.

“We all know what it’s like to be at the lowest of lows, so now we’re using our past experience to push forward,” said junior guard Devin Dyer, one of the team’s four returning starters.

The 2010-11 Mustangs finished 13-18 overall and held a 6-14 conference record that was good for eighth place.

Since joining the GSAC in 2001, TMC has never finished higher than fifth in the conference, but with three of its top four leading scorers from last year coming back and younger, capable players added to the roster, this might be the time to strike while the iron’s hot.

“Since all of us are back, why not just finish where we left off?” said senior guard Anthony Cammon, who led the team with 13.8 points per contest last season.

At an average of 11.4 points per game through seven games this year, Cammon remains the top scoring threat, though fellow returners Dyer (11.3) and Leif Karlberg (10.6) aren’t far behind.

The fourth holdover in the starting lineup, 6-foot-7-inch center Paul Brown, is leading the team with 6.3 rebounds per game and 16 total blocks.

Brown is perhaps the quintessential example of the team’s defense-first mentality.

“I know one thing right now, you can’t come in and expect to shoot quickly or expect to score easy points against this group,” Martin said. “We’re not going to let you. And if you do that, you’re going to get pounded going the other way in transition.”

Helping out on the defensive end are two additional big men in freshmen Chris Patureau and John Hogan, who have come off the bench to relieve Brown in the low post.

Another freshman, shooting guard Mike Harmon, has consistently come in as the fifth starter to help make up for the lost production of Joey Fuca, the only starter lost to graduation last year.

Guard Lance Reeves, a junior college transfer, is also expected to play significant minutes off the bench in what Martin expects to be an eight-man rotation.

“It’s a luxury this year that we’re so deep,” Karlberg said. “Last year, that was one of our problems. We didn’t go deep into our bench. This year, we have that luxury, so look at the four returners. We’re not playing 40 minutes a game like we were last year.”

As good as the defense has been, Martin said he is concerned about the offensive balance. Most of the Mustangs’ points are coming from the guards and their jump-shooting abilities.

The team lacks ability to create plays off the dribble and get to the free throw line when needed, Martin said, which is all the more reason to shift the focus to making stops and creating turnovers defensively.

The thought of building a team around defense isn’t a new concept for the sixth-year coach.

He believes it gives the Mustangs their best chance to compete in a GSAC field that boasts four teams ranked in the NAIA preseason top 25 — and that includes No. 15 Biola, which TMC faces in its conference opener today at 7:30 p.m. at Bross Gym.

“We’re never going to have the most talent in the country,” Martin said. “We’re never going to have the most talent in the GSAC, but we still have to find a way to win games.”

At least so far, winning games hasn’t been a problem.

Now it’s time to see if TMC has taken its licks and is ready to turn the corner in conference play.

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