Playoffs a possibility for Pioneers

Written By Alexander Stumpf

In the world of sports, turning a 9-16 team into a playoff contender is no easy task, but it is the one facing Point Park University’s men’s basketball team.Last year’s team was young and injury-prone, so despite a good out-of-conference record, their poorly late in the season against their conference foes. This year, they were set to prove that they were a playoff worthy team and that they could make some noise in the AMC.They came flying out of the gates earning a 81-70 victory over No. 25-ranked Siena Heights. They then improved their record to 9-4 with a 3-2 conference record. They are an even better team than their record indicates, considering the difficulty of their schedule, which includes tough losses to No. 12 ranked West Liberty University and No. 1 ranked conference foe, Walsh University. In both of these games, they lost by more than 10 points. The season does not get any easier, highlighted by a game in Walsh on Feb. 1.But the team’s response to injuries is, perhaps, its most encouraging attribute. When the injury-bug struck last year, it spelled the end for the squad. This year, they have played through it, as evident through a 99-93 overtime win over Cedarville University in which two of their leading scorers, senior guard Jimmy Sherwood and sophomore guard T.J. Heatherington, had to sit out due to injuries.”Everyone is clicking,” Heatherington said. “We’re playing well together.”Head coach Bob Rager is one of the biggest influences on the group this year. Now in his 22nd year, the Point Park alum came into the season just 10 wins shy of tying the school record for wins by a head coach held by Jerry Conboy, the same coach he played for back in the early 70’s. This strong start put him on the cusp of tying the mark; however, the two-time coach of the year winner was not concerned about setting this record.”We just want to do well,” said Rager. “My personal records aren’t as important as the team.”Another huge influence to this year’s team is the senior transfer student Kris Douse. The 6’7″ forward has become a focal point for the squad ever since he transferred from Delaware State University, especially in the rebounding game. He’s almost become a machine, picking up on average over 13 boards per game, which leads the country, equipped with the fact that he averages over 15 points per game as well. He has also picked up 11 double-doubles in these first 13 games, many of which have come in the increasingly essential conference matchups.”He’s been a huge factor. He grabs every rebound,” Heatherington said. “He’s a presence, a big man. He grabs every rebound…and does everything we could ask of him.”Heatherington is no slouch as well. After making it to the all-AMC team during his freshman season, he has continued to improve, as he now boasts an average of over 15 points a game. He is quickly becoming a leader for the squad.A tough schedule might keep the Pioneers out of the playoffs, but everyone remains optimistic. However, that does not mean that there is no room for improvement.”It comes down to consistency. We need to bring it all the time,” Douse said. A playoff run will not be easy, but it is very possible, especially if they continue to play as well as they have.