Last year, Webster men’s basketball beat Greenville in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. The team’s first game of the 2021 season will be on Feb. 24 at Greenville.
The Webster men’s basketball team has big expectations after their St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) tournament victory over Greeneville last year. The team started the 2019 season just 2-7. “That record did not reflect how good a team we actually are,” senior Josh Johnson said after the start to the season.
Johnson was prophetic in his prediction as the Gorloks then went on to win 17 of their next 18 games and the SLIAC tournament. The team was sent home in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament after a loss to Nebraska Wesleyan, just days before the entire nation shut down due to the pandemic.
The team traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska for the game in early March 2020, taking a seven-hour bus ride. Webster had been leading during the game but ended up losing 77-73. Webster had been up eight points during the first half when they held Nebraska Wesleyan to just 29 points total. Head coach Chris Bunch kept instructing his players to stay the course during the game, as he expected a big run would come in the second half for the opponent. The Prairie Wolves ended up scoring 48 points in the second half, barely edging Webster out. Twice in the final 10 seconds, Johnson had three-point attempts to tie the game but missed both, keeping the deficit at three until Nebraska Wesleyan made one out of their two free throws to seal the game several seconds later.
2021 is different for many reasons: COVID-19, the shortened season, testing and masks. The largest looming factor is that four of the five seniors from a season ago have now graduated, with three returning as assistant coaches. The team will now be led by senior forward Rodson Etienne, who is on pace to score 1,000 career points this year, and sophomore guard Wynne Brown Jr.
“My expectations are the same as last year,” Etienne said, “to win the SLIAC and make it to the NCAA tournament. After winning the title last year, we became a target and we’re prepared for that.”
Senior guard Lance Hatten is one of the team’s vocal leaders.
“I feel pretty good because we are still able to bond over this and come together despite all of the odds that we are facing,” Hatten said. “We realize that we love the game so much so that we just want to cherish the time we have on the court together.”
Brown, who is coming off his award-winning freshman season, has expectations to “win the SLIAC and make it far in the [NCAA] tournament.”
The Gorloks will play just 10 games in 2021; two-versus-five teams within their conference, one home and one away. The first game is Feb. 24 at Greenville, where no fans will be permitted to attend. The SLIAC tournament will take place from April 6 to April 10, with a quarterfinal added to the tournament this year.
After finishing the 2019 season with a 19-9 record, and a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament to the No. 10 ranked Nebraska Wesleyan, Webster is looking to go back and has something to prove.