- Matthew Franco
D3 Men's Update: Can Stevens Repeat as MAC Freedom Conference Champs?
The Stevens Ducks are hoping for some déjà vu.
After dropping to 0-4 to start their out of conference schedule, the Ducks appeared lost. However, this is a team not far removed from an 0-3 start to the 2021-22 season, in which they rebounded to finish 17-9 and eventually win the conference.
Stevens has begun to assert themselves as a force in the MAC Freedom Conference, an impressive feat given they are relatively new to the league. Since joining the conference in 2019, the Ducks have already won two of the last three conference championships. This well-oiled machine is coached by Bobby Hurley, who has been with the program for 14 seasons.
Since the 0-4 start, the Ducks have gone 4-0 in conference play, which begs the question – can they do it again? The 2021-22 season was one to remember for the Ducks, as they earned the #2 seed in the conference and ran the table to win the conference championship. Alec DiPietrantonio led the way for Stevens, averaging 14 points per game over the course of the season. The Ducks also received key contributions from Conor Coffey and Matt LaCorte, who started every game averaging 10 points per game apiece. After ending the season on a four game winning streak, the Ducks carried that momentum forwards and won the title, finishing the championship game with a 71-68 victory over Lycoming University. DiPietrantonio scored 21 points in the victory, and Coffey hit a crucial three pointer with 43 seconds remaining to put the Ducks up four.
The Ducks entered the 2022 season with large amount of confidence in their ability to go back to back; the coaches’ poll had them as 2nd going into the season. However, their efforts to repeat as champions have gotten off to a slow start, losing their first four before winning two consecutive games to gather some momentum before conference play.
Most of Stevens’ early struggles can be attributed to the loss of DiPietrantonio, who Coach Hurley called “our leader at both ends of the floor.”
In his absence, some of the other Ducks have come on to pick up the slack, most notably Mike Goodall. Goodall, a reserve last season, has been thrust into a starting role and responded admirably to the tune of 13.4 points per game. The remaining starters have also improved their per game totals, which will be necessary for this team to remain on top of the conference. Sophomore Jack Spellman has been a revelation, averaging 14.3 points and 9.8 rebounds through the first stretch of games.
Despite a road loss to #12 Middlebury College, the Ducks have won every conference match to start the season, with their most recent result being a 69-64 victory over Wilkes University. Coffey led a well-balanced Stevens team to victory with 13 points, as the Ducks received 22 points from their bench. First year Brendan Coughlan came up with a crucial steal and layup with 4:25 remaining to put the Ducks up for good.
While the team received votes to be included in the Week 4 Division III Top 25 ranking, they did not receive enough to qualify, and fell out of the votes following the loss to Middlebury.
This December, the team also hosted the Stevens Men’s Basketball Holiday Tournament, in which they defeated Dickinson before losing to #15 Wheaton College in the final. Brett Bischoping paced the Ducks in the final, with 10 points in 16 minutes on an impressive 5/7 shooting.
For the remainder of the season, Stevens will play every match of conference play with the hopes of earning a high seed for the conference tournament.
Not to be lost in the basketball is the intelligence of these Stevens players either; the Ducks earned the Team Academic Excellence Award last season from the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
NABC Executive Director Craig Robinson referred to Stevens as a team with “excellence in the classroom,” and that the NABC “considers it a privilege to honor” this team.
This is a team that has the talent to win the conference again, but the competition will be much tougher. The MAC Freedom Conference continues to improve, but Stevens currently has the second best conference record, only trailing DeSales who are on a nine game winning streak. The Ducks had gotten off to a slow start, but that is nothing new for them and they have shown the ability to respond to adversity in the past. Will this team be able to fill the big shoes left behind by DiPietrantonio and LaCorte? That remains to be seen, but this team’s interconference schedule will give us a good indication of what's to come for this season.
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