After missing out on the postseason last year, the Webster men’s basketball team looked forward to a clean slate to start the season. The team started the season 0-4, but went on to win 12 of the next 17 games.
They started the season off with two exhibition losses that would eventually lead to a total of six straight losses. They lost to Drury University 82-75 and to Washington University 60-59 after freshman forward Enrique Tankins missed two free throws at the end of the game.
Head Coach Chris Bunch said the team’s slow start to the season had a lot to do with them being outmatched in terms of rankings and standings.
“I think we got off to a slow start because of the people we were playing,” Bunch said. “We started the season 0-4 and those are some of the better Division lll programs in the Midwest. I think if we were to flip the season right now, we may not win one of those four again.”
Bunch said one of the most important things for him was making sure his team stayed encouraged during those times of adversity. Considering the high level of competition they were facing, he said he consistently enforced to his team that things are not as bad as what they seem.
“Early on I just reminded them that we were playing some really good teams, and in those first four losses we also played Division ll teams in exhibitions,” he said. “So I told them, ‘realize who you’re playing, we could be playing some really bad people and winning games, but maybe that wouldn’t show us who we really are.’”
Senior guard CJ Moore is one of the leaders on the team in points scored, averaging 13.2 points per game on 51 percent shooting.
Moore said he felt like the team needed to be more cohesive and get more accustomed to playing with each other. He said once they did that, he knew things would start going better for them.
“I felt like we needed to get more used to each other and communicate more,” Moore said. “I wanted to get a better sense of where my teammates wanted the ball and what plays they were comfortable with, and eventually I got more comfortable with them as well.”
Moore said when the team faced challenges he found himself embracing more of a leadership role. He said he knew that leadership from himself and some of his other senior teammates would be key in lifting them out of the slump they were in.
“I definitely had to step up and be more of a leader when things got tough,” Moore said. “Coach [Bunch] has confidence in me to be a leader of this team and that’s what I try to do.”
By the end of November, the team started to win more games. The team would go on to win five of their next six games.
They now have a winning record of 12-9 and look to be in position to make the playoffs. Bunch said he particularly sees a sense of urgency amongst his seniors because they realize they have to play smarter and selfless if they want to make a legitimate run in the postseason.
Sophomore forward Evan Milligan has been a contributor for the team. Milligan makes his presence felt in the interior as he leads the team in rebounds with a 7.1 average and in blocks with a 2.3 average. Milligan said he knows he has to be productive in every way he can so that the team can reach its full potential.
“I had to come in with a different mindset this year,” Milligan said. “I know that I have to play well or else the team isn’t going to be as good as it can be.”
As a freshman, Milligan saw limited playing time and was forced to play behind more experienced players, but he said he feels more important to the team now that he is a starter and one of the team’s key players.
“It feels great,” Milligan said. “It feels great to have a bigger role and I just have to keep working hard and keep getting better for the team.”
Bunch said Milligan has been a vital element to the success of the team as he continues to progress. He said he wants Milligan to be even more aggressive because the team is at its best when he is at his best.
“He’s very much so an important piece to our team; he’s very efficient,” Bunch said. “Sometimes I wish he would try to do more, he’s very unselfish. I think he’s averaging 13 [points] a game and I think he could average even more if he took more shots. As good as he is, I think he could be a lot more productive if he could be a little less selfless.”