This year marks the first season the Thomas More Saints aren’t in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. However, this hasn’t stopped the Waynesburg men’s basketball team from finding a way to play the Saints.
“I think as a conference, at least on the men’s [basketball] side, we miss them because the conference isn’t as good without them,” said Waynesburg University’s men’s basketball head coach Mark Christner.
The Jackets (5-14, 4-7) will host the Saints this Saturday at 1 p.m. and Christner sees the match-up with the former PAC powerhouse as a good thing because of the familiarity with the team.
“I know that they have a lot of guys back from their team a year ago, they have a new coach and a new system,” said Christner. “I think that they are scoring more points on average and they’re in a very unique spot now being independent, there is no doubt that it will be a challenge.”
Seniors Damion King, Brandon Horne and Ryne Callahan are all recognizable faces as they have faced Waynesburg each of the past three seasons.
“The biggest thing for us is that you have to contain their point guard Damian King, he was the player of the year last year in our league,” said Christner. “They also have some guys on the wings that can make shots. So, the biggest thing is that you have to be able to guard on the perimeter. It is easier said than done, I think that they have some balance a little bit too, but Horne, King and Callahan are all three guys that have played since they were freshmen there.”
The key to beating Thomas More, according to Christner, is to play smart and get rebounds.
“They shoot at a high percentage and don’t turn the ball over,” said Christner. “So, you have to be able to keep them in front and rebound and at some point, you have to be able to score on them too. We have typically tried to work from the inside out against them and try to get to the free throw line.”
Christner emphasized the importance of the rest of the schedule considering the conference is really congested in the middle, with seven teams within two games of each other as of Tuesday evening.
“I think that our conference is really balanced, two games separate second from eighth. You have some outliers with Saint Vincent and Bethany to a degree, but everybody else is kind of in the middle there,” said Christner.
After the Thomas More game, the Yellow Jackets will have four games left in the season. All four are conference games.
Waynesburg is currently sitting in eighth place out of the nine teams in the PAC, which would mean if the season ended today, they would travel to Saint Vincent for the first round of the playoffs.
“Basketball is awesome because it really comes down to February, it comes down to who can play with the most cohesion, who can play the most together and especially in the circumstance like us,” said Christner. “Everybody knows that you’re going to probably have to beat Saint Vincent at Latrobe, which isn’t easy to do.”