PLYMOUTH, N.H. - After perhaps the most successful season in school history a year ago, the Plymouth State University men's basketball team opens a new journey this weekend with the beginning of the 2004-05 campaign.
The Panthers will travel to New Jersey for the Steve Adubato One-on-One Classic at Montclair State University. PSU will play in the opener Friday at 6:30 p.m. against Centenary College (N.J.), which is coached by former Panther assistant coach Andy DeStephano, and will wrap up the weekend Saturday at 3:00 p.m. against host Montclair State.
PSU will play another non-conference road game next Tuesday, Nov. 23, at Castleton State (Vt.) College (7:30 p.m.), leading into the Thanksgiving break. The home opener at Foley Gymnasium is against Rhode Island College on Saturday, Dec. 4, the only home game of the first semester.
Plymouth State will also be on display in Concord, N.H. on Tuesday, Nov. 30, at the Jacob's Bridge Through Autism Classic, hosted by N.H. Technical Institute. PSU meets Colby-Sawyer College in the nightcap (7:30 p.m.), following the 5:30 p.m. clash between Keene State and New England College. The annual event helps raise money and awareness for families who have children with autism.
The Panthers' schedule includes 24 regular season games, including 14 Little East Conference encounters. The LEC Tournament begins the last week of February, with a champion being crowned on Feb. 26 and receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament.
2004-05 PSU Men's Basketball Outlook
Matching last year's accomplishments may be difficult for this year's Panther squad. After all, last year's team won 13 of its first 14 games, ended up second in the Little East Conference, made its seventh post-season appearance in the last nine years with an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament, won its first-round home game, the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history, and finished with a program-best 24-6 overall record.
Four starters are gone from that team, but sixth-year head coach John Scheinman says this year's squad can again challenge for an LEC Championship.
"We had a great season last year and we're very proud of it, but we want to win the conference championship," says Scheinman. "That's still our No. 1 goal."
The leaders of this year's team will be senior point guard Nick Pelotte (Bingham, Maine) and sophomore power forward Andreas Pope (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Pelotte is a two-time All-New England pick with outstanding quickness and scoring ability who has averaged 18 points a game the past two seasons. Pope had a terrific rookie campaign, averaging 13.1 points and 6.8 rebounds while leading the Little East in field goal percentage (.611).
"They're our two leading scorers back, and the offense will revolve around them," says Scheinman. "They're two of the top players in New England, no question."
Junior center Kevin Boutilier (North Andover, Mass.) provides the Panthers an experienced big man in the middle. Boutilier has started 30 of his 59 games in two years, shooting 52 percent from the field and averaging seven points and three rebounds. He also adds solid defense.
Sophomore Mike Walcek (Dover, N.H.) continued to improve over the second half of last season and the summer and has moved into the small forward spot. He is a strong outside shooter who can be difficult to defend.
Several players will be in contention to see court time in the shooting guard/small forward positions. Senior Jay Boyle (Woburn, Mass.), juniors Mark Dunham (Salem, N.H./Pinkerton) and Brandon Boggs (Center Strafford, N.H.), and sophomore Devin Ruocco (Dover, N.H.) will all get their chances to prove themselves, and Scheinman is hoping one or two will emerge from the group.
The Panthers will again have a deep bench. Juniors Pete Hutchins (New London, N.H.) and Mike Sullivan (Brookline, N.H.) give PSU depth at point guard, and senior Matt Budrow (Round Pond, Maine) and sophomore Andy Carey (Cumberland, Maine) are solid frontcourt reserves. Senior Joey Mattson (Center Harbor, N.H.), and junior Charles Gaddy (Hartford, Conn.) can also step in.
Scheinman says a solid group of newcomers who will be looking to make contributions include forwards John Belcher (Hamden, Conn.), Jamal Mungin (Roxbury, Mass.), Ryan Phillip (Brooklyn, N.Y.), and Tim Russell (Littleton, N.H.) and guard Phil Bourassa (Old Orchard Beach, Maine).
"We'll naturally be compared to last year's team, but this is a different team which is still searching for its identity," says Scheinman. "We have a veteran nucleus, so I think we'll be in the mix for the top spot in the conference."
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