Emerson’s Eric Helfman turned the corner, and attacked the basket. With each step he took toward the rim, the Lions’ bench shifted with anticipation. As the senior guard sped into the paint, he flipped the ball up toward the rim. With the entire men’s basketball team on its toes, the ball went up, and began to spin around the rim. As the ball finally fell in, the bench celebrated, nearly spilling onto the court.
The 2011-2012 season has seen its trials and trepidations for the men’s basketball team. But this past Saturday, everything came together for the Lions as they defeated Anna Maria 68-45 for the team’s senior game.
The starting lineup featured a senior at every position, with Helfman and Carlos Negrete receiving their first starts of the season. Helfman’s lone score on the day came with 1:29 remaining and Emerson comfortably in the lead. It was the senior’s third basket of the season.
The game started out slowly but picked up speed as the first half progressed. Senior Nathan Firn gave Emerson the lead just under four minutes in after hitting a jump shot and knocking down two free throws. Soon after, freshman Patrick Lowndes stripped the AmCats twice on defense and converted on the other end to give Emerson a double-digit lead. The Lions reached halftime with a 33-20 advantage.
During the second half, Emerson limited Anna Maria to 25 points while racking up 35 of its own.
O’Brien, who was very happy with Emerson’s performance, said the team’s offense and defense performed well.
“I was really, really pleased with the effort, and we played very, very smart, we were efficient on offense, and we really did a great job defensively,” he said. Emerson had a 52.9 field goal percentage in comparison to Anna Maria, who shot 32.7 from the field.
Emerson’s last game against Anna Maria ended with a 55-45 loss Jan. 7. O’Brien said the Lions were a different team earlier in the season, as the roster is no longer filled weakened by injuries or unfamiliar with new players. The team has recuperated and gelled through the duration of the schedule, according to the first-year head coach.
“We’ve come leaps and bounds from where we were earlier. We are significantly better right now than we were earlier in the season,” O’Brien said. The 23-point victory was the largest win of the season for Emerson.
Firn said the team’s recent success has to do with the offense’s growing confidence, whereas in the past the team’s offense would falter as the game wore on.
“We’ve been in a lot of games but we’ve just been struggling to make shots down the stretch,” the forward said.
There were no such difficulties in this game, as a member from each graduating class scored in double-digits.
James Rhodes in particular is one of the players who has found his touch during the latter stretch. After getting sparse playing time in the first half of the season, the sophomore put up 16 against Mount Ida before leading Emerson against Anna Maria with 18.
The men’s basketball team has won five of its last seven games, and now the Lions are 6-18 overall and 6-12 in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC).
After defeating Rivier on Tuesday, the Lions improved to 5-2 in their last seven games, all in the GNAC, keeping the team’s playoff hopes alive.
Emerson will close out its season tonight at Wheelock.