PLYMOUTH, N.H. - There will be a new look on the sideline when the Plymouth State University men's basketball team opens the 2007-08 season this weekend at the Wheaton College Tip-Off Tournament in Norton, Mass.
Interim head coach Jay Harris will be patrolling the sideline this season for the Panthers, filling in for veteran head coach John Scheinman, who is on a one-year leave of absence. Harris (right) is a former standout at Rhode Island College who takes over after one year as an assistant under Scheinman.
The Panthers will begin the campaign in the tourney opener Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Fairleigh-Dickinson University-Florham, with Norwich University and Wheaton battling in the second game at 7:30 p.m. The consolation game is Saturday at 1:00 p.m., with the championship contest set for 3:00 p.m.
PSU will host Castleton State College in the home opener on Tuesday, Nov. 20, with four more home games at Foley Gymnasium during the first semester. Another highlight of the schedule is PSU's annual participation in the annual Jacob's Bridge Through Autism Classic, hosted by N.H. Technical Institute in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 27. PSU will meet New England College in the first game at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Keene State/Colby-Sawyer College match-up at 7:30 p.m. The annual event helps raise money and awareness for families who have children with autism.
The Panthers' schedule includes 25 regular season contests, including 14 Little East Conference games. The LEC Tournament takes place the last week of February, with a champion being crowned on Mar. 1 and receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament.
2007-08 PSU Men's Basketball Outlook
Plymouth State is going through a transition on the court as well as the sideline.
"We're very young, and the Little East is full of senior-laden teams," said Harris. "We have only two experienced seniors, but we are returning a good core of sophomores who are going to be the future of this team."
The Panthers are looking to rebound from last year's 10-16 campaign, which stopped a streak of 13 straight winning seasons at Plymouth State and five straight years with a visit to the post-season.
"We have good team speed and solid outside shooting," said Harris. "The plan is to run a lot, and I think you'll be seeing us put up a lot of threes. Our goal is not necessarily to be the best or most skilled team in the conference, but we want to be the toughest and work the hardest. Then we can feel good about the outcome."
The Panthers have three returning starters in senior point guard Phil Bourassa (Old Orchard Beach, Maine/Biddeford), junior guard Ben Huntington (Hampstead, N.H./Pinkerton), and senior center Chris Wilkinson (Newmarket, N.H.) Bourassa ranked third in the LEC in assists (4.5 per game) and led the conference in free throw percentage (85.2) while Huntington averaged nearly 10 points a game and made 27 three-pointers, second most on the team. Wilkinson averaged 7.7 points and 3.4 boards in the front court, shooting 63 percent from the field (but not enough attempts to qualify for the league title.)
Another key returnee is sophomore forward Mike Chergey (Bow, N.H.), the top returning scorer (10.4 ppg) and rebounder (4.5 rpg) from last season who led the conference in field goal percentage (59.0) Other returning veterans who are likely to see plenty of playing time are sophomores Jason O'Keefe (Everett, Mass.), Bryan Tracy (Manchester, N.H./Central) and Eric Hondal (Miami, Fla./Piper).
Coach Harris says freshman guards Ian Dempsey (Andover, Mass./Andover) and Matt Feehan (Nashua, N.H./Nashua South) and freshman forward Tom Dowd (Portsmouth, N.H./Portsmouth) look like the top newcomers and could help out.
"Our goal, like everyone else, is to win the Little East," says Harris, "but if we can host a first-round game in the LEC Tournament, that would be a big step for us."
Harris admits it's been an adjustment for the team with the new coaching staff.
"Obviously Coach Scheinman has done a great job here, and I can't be him, I can only be me," says Harris. "The guys have responded well. We'll have to see how they respond after a three-game losing streak."
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