After another offseason of growth and an influx of fresh talent, the Allegheny College men’s basketball team is ready to keep rising.
The 2019-20 campaign tips off tonight at 7 p.m. as the Gators travel to Pittsburgh to face the Tartans of Carnegie Mellon.
Last season, the Gators laid the foundation of a rebuild. After a 5-20 campaign in 2017-18, Allegheny improved to 10-15 overall last year (6-12 in the North Coast Athletic Conference).
The Gators even put a scare into Wooster in the first round of the NCAC Tournament, nearly becoming the first 8-seed to knock off the 1-seed. Wooster rallied for a 91-89 win after a last second layup from Reece Dupler.
This season, it seems like the Gators have the pieces in place to keep climbing the ladder in the conference.
A big factor in the Gators’ optimism is that all three of their top scorers from last season — senior Jordan Rawls and sophomores Brian Roberts Jr. and Caden Hinckley — return to the fold.
“It’s great to have a veteran group back,” said Allegheny head coach Bob Simmons. “It’s been awhile. It’s nice having those guys back, having that experience. That experience has been tremendous.”
Rawls is tasked with stepping in as the senior leader after the graduation of guard Billy Urso.
“Losing a player like Billy Urso, you can’t replace that,” Simmons said. “We’ve been together through four years. Billy’s been here through it all.
“Jordan Rawls is a different type of leader. He’s not a vocal guy. ... He’s a lead-by-example type player.”
Rawls averaged 19.0 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season to lead Allegheny in both categories. He was also the team leader in blocks with 21.
Besides the numbers, Rawls’ work ethic has really impressed his coach.
“It’s to a point now that he has to change his practice jersey during practice because of how much he sweats,” Simmons added. “It’s more about holding guys accountable and making sure that they play up to his standards.”
Then there’s Roberts and Hinckley, who both logged a lot of time on the court as freshmen.
At guard, Roberts averaged 16.9 points per contest, knocked down 48 treys, and led the team in assists (103) and steals (43).
“Brian Roberts is the energizer bunny.” Simmons said. “I like what he’s doing off the court, being a role model and a leader for these guys.”
The 6-foot-7 Hinckley added 9.8 points and 6.3 boards a game from the forward spot last season.
“I’ve see a confidence level in (Caden) that I didn’t see last year,” Simmons said. “He knows he’s good and he expects to be good. He’s holding himself to a higher standard.”
The Gators also have guards Lamar Todd and Jordan Greynolds along with forward Nijon Kirkman back in uniform.
There’s also a promising group of freshmen to factor in with seven newcomers to the Gators.
“Some days it’s really good, some days I’m just happy they put the jersey on the right way,” laughed Simmons.
Keeno Holmes highlights the group. He was a four-year starter at Lincoln Park High School, leading the Leopards to a PIAA Class 3A title last winter. He was named All-State, scoring 17.1 points per game as a senior.
“He’s an energy guy, always brings the same energy,” Simmons said about his new guard.
Six of the seven freshmen are at 6-foot-3 or taller.
“We’re long and athletic in that freshmen class,” Simmons added. “Whether you’re a four-year guy or you’re a newbie, talent wins out in the end.”
With the added length, Allegheny needs to shore up some things on the defensive end. While the Gators scored 78.6 points per game, opponents racked up 81.7 ppg. on average.
“We’ve got to do a better job of guarding the ball. ... We’ve done a better job on our close-outs, making guys feel our presence,” Simmons said. “There is a focus on the defense, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to score points to win the game.”
With added emphasis on defense and more growth, the question now is will the win total keep going up?
“Our expectation, bottom line, is to win,” Simmons said. “We’re going to have a refuse-to-lose mentality.”