After only their fifth game of the season, the Lords basketball team has already exceeded their win total from last year. Now seven games into the season, they have doubled that total. The Lords find themselves at 4-3, with a 2-1 record in the NCAC, primarily through their defensive grit and knack for playing well under pressure.
Most recently, the Lords won a 60-59 nailbiter against Denison University on Saturday. Despite Denison having a chance to steal a victory as time expired, strong defensive play forced a bad shot by Will Hunter at the buzzer to seal the win. No current member of the team had previously seen a victory against Denison in their time at Kenyon; the Lords’ last victory over the Big Red came on Jan. 13, 2016. This win is especially sweet for Kenyon’s seniors, who have suffered six straight losses against the Big Red. Notably, these seniors achieved their first win against a team that features Ben Stern, a former Lord who transferred after his sophomore season in 2018.
Since their season opener versus Geneva College (Penn.), the Lords suffered sizable losses to Muskingum University (67-83), Washington and Jefferson College (Penn.) (55-73), and Oberlin College (57-77). In addition to Denison, the Lords defeated DePauw University (69-65) and Waynesburg University (Penn.) (80-61).
The standout win for Kenyon came against DePauw. Down by 20 at halftime in the NCAC season opener, the Lords held DePauw to 20 points in the second half, showing their ability to dominate their opponents offensively when things are going smoothly. The Lords scored 12 fast break points overall, and two steals by Ryan O’Neil ’20 in the opening minute of the second half set the tone for the Lords’ comeback. Ugnius Zilinskas ’21 and Elijah Davis ’22 demonstrated their offensive firepower, scoring 34 and 17 points respectively. Steals by Kenyon’s backcourt and rebounds by the frontcourt gave Davis and Zilinskas more opportunities to score in the third and fourth quarters.
As the second half against DePauw demonstrated, defensive grit has been the hallmark of the Lords’ season so far. When holding opponents under 70 points the Lords are 4-0 and they are winless when they fail to do so. Kenyon has only scored above 70 in one contest when they put 80 points up against Waynesburg. In both wins and losses, their top offensive players have put up points, but the Lords’ victories can be attributed to the efforts of the entire team. Davis and Zilinskas’ hot hands are aided by aggressive defense and smart offense.
The Lords are not simply a defensive team though. They are loaded with the offensive talent of shooters like Carter Powell ’20—recently returned from injury—scorers like Zilinskas and Davis and crafty passers like O’Neil and Christian Watanabe ’22. The Lords’ play is not marked by offensive aggression but by a patient approach to offense that, if disciplined, progressively runs opposing teams down.
As Powell has returned from injury, he has progressively taken on more minutes in each game. Moving forward, expect Powell to help Zilinskas and Davis kickstart their offense. The Lords’ next game is Thursday at 5 p.m. at home against Westminster College (Penn.).