Section: Basketball

Men’s basketball faces conference foes over winter break

Men’s basketball faces conference foes over winter break

Kocaman | COURTESY OF GRAHAM STOKES

As Kenyon students headed home for winter break, the men’s basketball team hit the hardwood to face off against foes from the NCAC and outside of the conference. The Owls closed out December with a three-game win streak, but struggled as the calendar turned to 2024. Kenyon’s record sits at 4-13 (2-6 NCAC).

In the Owls’ final game before winter break, they headed north to face the Hiram College Terriers on Dec. 9. Though Hiram built an early 9-4 lead, Kenyon was able to answer back and took its first lead with 12 minutes to play in the opening frame. The two teams traded buckets throughout the first half, with the opening frame featuring 10 lead changes. After a pair of Hiram free throws cut Kenyon’s lead to 28-27 with under two minutes until the half, the Owls put up a strong defensive stand to regain possession and grow their advantage to 32-27 at halftime. Kenyon opened the second half with a 3-pointer from Connor Moss ’25, giving the Owls their largest lead of the day. Though Kenyon led for much of the second half, Hiram refused to go away without a fight. In the game’s closing minutes, a pair of field goals from Charlie Heywood ’27 and clutch shooting from the charity stripe helped to seal the 72-68 win for the Owls.

Murathan Kocaman ’27, who led Kenyon with 15 points, praised the team for its ability to overcome a slow start. “Even though we did not play our best game to start with, we stuck with the game plan and stayed focused,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. Moss, who had eight points against the Terriers, saw the Owls’ victory as a clear shift for a program that had struggled with conference opponents in the past. “That was our second conference win in three tries, which was more than the last two seasons combined,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “So it felt like we were rewriting some of the ideas that teams had about our team in years passed.” 

On Dec. 19, Kenyon faced off against Mount Saint Joseph University. Though the Lions led early in the game, a lay-up from Gefen Bar-Cohen ’25 gave the Owls a 13-11 lead. Kenyon never trailed again. The Lions stayed competitive until the end, despite trailing by double digits throughout the game. In the waning seconds of the final frame, a Mount Saint Joseph 3-pointer cut Kenyon’s advantage to just three points, and the Lions called a timeout to draw up a final play. A layup from Kocaman gave Kenyon some breathing room, and the Owls won by a final score of 74-71. The team shot a season-best 62.8% from the field, helping to fend off the Lions.

Two days later, Kenyon closed out 2023 with a game against Chatham University (Pa.). The first half against the Cougars was not kind to the Owls, who trailed 50-36 at halftime. Chatham fired off shots at will in the game’s opening 20 minutes, resulting in a first-half field goal percentage of 62.16%. Facing a steep deficit, Kenyon locked in defensively in the second half, holding Chatham to just 21.8% from the field. Dylan Fuerst ’24 and Moss combined to score the first eight points of the frame, and, though the Cougars regained some ground, a 13-0 Kenyon run gave the Owls their first lead of the game with five minutes to play. The two teams went back and forth down the stretch, as a Chatham and-one gave the Cougars a 68-67 lead with under a minute to play. After a foul sent Bar-Cohen to the charity stripe, the forward made his first free throw but missed the second. Chatham could not convert its final shot of regulation, and the teams headed to overtime. The Cougars’ offensive struggles continued in overtime, but the Owls’ clutch shooting from the field (3-5) and the free throw line (8-10) lifted Kenyon to an 82-79 win.

For Moss, who had 17 points against Chatham, overcoming a poor first half was key to Kenyon’s success. “To come back with a gutsy win in overtime spoke to the team’s determination and how confident and comfortable we feel with our backs against the walls,” he said. Bar-Cohen, who notched his second double-double of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds, saw the Owls’ strong play against non-conference foes as an important step toward success in the NCAC. “We played with the intensity and confidence that we knew we were capable of,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “This mentality will translate to success in conference play.”

Kenyon returned to the court on Jan. 3 to play the College of Wooster at Tomsich Arena. After a back-and-forth start to the game, the Fighting Scots grew their lead to seven points with seven minutes to play before the break. In the closing minutes of the first frame, the Owls’ offense soared. Strong shooting from deep and a 10-3 run to close the first half gave Kenyon a 38-29 lead. Unfortunately, Wooster’s offense came alive in the second half, as the Fighting Scots poured on 50 points in the final 20 minutes, and the Owls fell 79-65.

Kenyon hosted Wittenberg University on Jan. 6. Though the Tigers never trailed, the Owls, led by Moss (24 points) and Bar-Cohen (20), kept the game close throughout. Wittenberg led by nine points with under five minutes to play in the first half, but Kocaman helped Kenyon to close the frame strong, connecting on a 3-pointer and a jump-shot to shrink the deficit to 39-36. The Tigers led by double digits at multiple points in the second half, but the Owls stayed close until the final seconds. Lucas Friedman ’27 cut the lead to three points, but Wittenberg hit a pair of free throws to close out the 80-75 win. The devil was in the details against the Tigers, as turnovers and foul trouble sank the home squad. Kenyon’s 24 fouls proved particularly costly, as Wittenberg went 25-of-27 from the charity stripe. 

Though Kenyon scored the first two points against Oberlin College on Jan. 10, the Yeomen controlled play throughout the rest of the road matchup. Oberlin doubled up the visitors in the first half, taking a 40-20 lead into the locker room. Though the latter 20 minutes were a closer affair, the Owls fell 69-44. Poor shooting throughout the contest doomed Kenyon, as the Owls shot just 26.3% from the field.

On Saturday, Kenyon got its first crack against Denison University, the top team in the NCAC, when the Owls played the rival Big Red in Granville, Ohio. The two teams traded baskets to start the game, though Denison held a slim advantage in the opening minutes. After the Big Red jumped ahead to a 21-10 lead, Bar-Cohen, Fuerst and Moss led a 9-2 run to cut the deficit to four points. The game remained a single-digit affair as the first half elapsed, but Denison regained control and headed to the half with a 40-30 lead. The Owls stayed close until the end, cutting the lead to just two points in the final minute, but the Big Red came away with a wire-to-wire 70-66 win. Fuerst, Anthony Testa ’24, Kocaman and Bar-Cohen all hit double digits in scoring.

The Owls returned to their home court on Wednesday to face off against the Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops. Kocaman emphasized the importance of sticking to the team’s identity. “As a team, we should focus on playing Kenyon basketball for 40 minutes and have a ‘next-play’ mentality,” he said. In an email to the Collegian, Fuerst highlighted smart offensive play as critical: “We need to play strong and balanced on the offensive end. Taking off-balance shots and making risky passes have hurt us in past games.” 

Fuerst scored Kenyon’s first points with a layup, before Nicholas Nelson ’26 gave the Owls a 4-2 lead with a layup of his own. The Battling Bishops answered back shortly after and never looked back. Though Kenyon stayed close at first, Ohio Wesleyan began to pull away as the first half elapsed and led 27-19 at halftime. Kenyon was unable to regain much ground in the second frame and fell by a final score of 61-42. Bar-Cohen led the team with 12 points, but no other Owl hit double digits. 

Kenyon will travel to Indiana to face off against DePauw University. After their thrilling Dec. 2 victory, the Owls will look to sweep the season series against the Tigers. Kocaman knows that Kenyon cannot rest on its laurels from the win. “We did a good job trusting the game plan tailored for DePauw in the first game and snatched a very close victory,” he said. “However, this time we are away so in order to get another victory we should fix our minor mistakes and execute the game plan better.” Bar-Cohen is confident that the Owls can make the adjustments to defeat the Tigers. “We know their tendencies and plays, and we know that we can beat them,” he said. “If we execute well offensively and lock up on defense, we will win.”

With a month left in the season, the Owls hope to make the conference tournament for the first time since 2017. Bar-Cohen believes that the team is close to reaching its full potential. “Our offense is clicking,” he said. “We’ve built great chemistry and we get buckets against every team we play; it’s just a matter of putting everything together on both sides for all 40 minutes.” Moss sees the team’s close losses against conference teams as proof that the team can stay competitive. “We are capable of playing with anybody in the conference,” he said. “We need to keep pushing each other and competing in practice everyday, so that we are prepared and have the competitive stamina to close out those games in the future.”

Sports assistant Henry Brandt ’26 is a member of the men’s basketball team.

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