By Gage Nutter
The Pride men’s basketball team is set to open its season against cross-town rival Western New England tonight at 7:00 PM.
Western New England finished last year 11-15 (the program’s highest win total since the 2009-2010 season) and fell in the CCC quarterfinals to eventual-champion, Nichols College. Springfield is 33-4 all-time against the Golden Bears and defeated Western New England 88-70 last season, but this year’s matchup could be one of the more contentious in the last few years.
WNE Players to Watch
#3 Mike Pettway (Guard, senior)
Pettway was the Golden Bear’s main source of offense when the two teams squared off in Blake Arena last season. The Pride won 88-70, but Pettway was difficult to contain throughout the night as he worked his way to a team-high 24 points.
The point guard is fast, to say the least. He possesses ball-handling skills that gets him into the paint and makes him tough to contain. Then, if the Pride manage to keep him out of the paint, he has shown that he can hit outside opportunities as well (went 3-3 from behind the arc in last year’s game). In addition to his offensive game, he was a presence on the boards last year — scooping up a team-high six rebounds in last year’s game. The guy is a workhorse. If Springfield want to start the season 1-0, it starts with containing Pettway. It’ll make sense for the Pride to put one of their better perimeter defenders onto Pettway to try and minimize his damage as much as possible tonight.
#35 Zach Taviatian (Forward, sophomore)
Taviatian, the reigning CCC Rookie of the Year, is a 6” 8’ forward with athletic ability — not something that is too common at the Division III level. He coupled his length with a solid mid-range game in last year’s matchup as he grinded to a 15-point day. In addition to his scoring, he can put his length to work on the boards (led the Golden Bears in rebounding last season, averaging 5.2 per-game).
With Pettway’s ability at the point and Taviatian skill down low, the Pettway-Taviatian connection will definitely be something to keep an eye on during tonight’s game.
This year’s matchup will be closer than last season’s. The Golden Bears are returning most of its core and the game will be on the road at Western New England. It is the first official game of the year for both squads, so things will be rocky at times from both sides; silly turnovers, broken plays and missed opportunities. But, when things go bad, the top players, like Jake Ross, Heath Post and Cam Earle, take over. This year’s Pride squad has fought through a lot the last few seasons and are adept at fighting through miscues and missteps.
It’ll be closer than last year, but Springfield should wake up Friday morning 1-0.
Featured photo courtesy of Reef Rogers