PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The 2008-09 edition of the Plymouth State University men's basketball team makes its debut this weekend when the Panthers host a season-opening tip-off tournament at Foley Gymnasium.
The Panthers are hosting the Days Inn of Campton Tip-Off Tournament Saturday and Sunday. PSU will meet Bard College in the opening game Saturday at 5:30 p.m., followed by Wheaton College against Centenary College (N.J.) in the second game at 7:30 p.m. There will be a consolation game Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with the championship contest slated for 4:00 p.m.
The season opener marks the return to the sidelines for PSU head coach John Scheinman, who is back after a one-year leave of absence. Scheinman (right) guided the Panthers to a 126-69 record in eight years before that. The opposing coach in the opener is Chris Wood, a 1989 Plymouth State graduate who started his coaching career many years ago at Plymouth Regional High School and Southern New Hampshire University.
After a pair of non-conference road games at Salem State and Castleton, PSU returns to the annual Jacob's Bridge Through Autism Classic, hosted by N.H. Technical Institute in Concord on Tuesday, Dec. 2. PSU will meet Colby-Sawyer College in the second game at 7:30 p.m., following the Keene State/New England College match-up at 5:30 p.m. Now in its ninth year, the popular 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 Feb. 28 and receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament.
2008-09 PSU Men's Basketball Outlook
PSU returns 10 veterans and three starters from last year's team, including the top three scorers and three of the top four rebounders. There are six solid newcomers and Scheinman is optimistic the team will come together, but admits there's a lot of work to do.
"There are only five student-athletes who have played for me," said Scheinman, "so it's been a tremendous learning process. We want to just keep working hard and getting better every day."
Scheinman says the Panthers have a solid offensive team with a handful of good shooters and plenty of depth, but they will need to perform at both ends of the court.
"We need to defend," said the coach. "We have to play defense. We need to develop a mental toughness to handle the rigors of Little East Conference basketball."
The Panthers are counting on the leadership of senior guard Ben Huntington (Hampstead, N.H./Pinkerton) and junior forward Bryan Tracy (Manchester, N.H./Central), the team's co-captains. Huntington led the team in scoring last season with 15.7 points per game, and can light it up from outside, as he made a team-high 59 three-point baskets last year. Tracy is a two-year starter who provides solid all-around play in the front court.
Junior guard Jason O'Keefe (Everett, Mass./Everett), junior forward Mike Chergey (Bow, N.H./Bow), and sophomore forward Tom Dowd (Portsmouth, N.H./Portsmouth) are also key returning players for the Panthers, according to Scheinman. O'Keefe averaged 13.3 points per game and is one of several PSU threats from long range; Chergey has averaged more than 10 points and four rebounds over his first two seasons; and Dowd has continued to improve and gives PSU size (6'5") and a presence in the low post.
Other returning veterans that should be key parts of the team are junior guard Eric Hondal (Miami, Fla./Piper) and sophomore guards Matt Feehan (Nashua, N.H./Nashua South) and Ian Dempsey (Andover, Mass./Andover). All three have seen significant playing time and will be contributors to this year's squad.
Scheinman says sophomore guard Ryan Lambert (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) looks like the top newcomer and should see consistent playing time. Freshman Jesse Sabolils (Stoughton, Mass./Stoughton) will also look for minutes at the guard spot, and veteran big men Miles Roberge (Franklin, N.H./Franklin) and Bill Stowell (Stratham, N.H./Exeter) can provide help off the bench in the front court.
Rounding out the roster is sophomore forward Pat George (Newmarket, N.H./Newmarket), junior guard John Hatcher (Windham, N.H./Salem), and freshman guards Kyle Walker (Brooklyn, N.Y./Brooklyn College Academy) and Brian Chergey (Bow, N.H./Bow).
"Our goal every year is to win the Little East Conference," said Scheinman. "We have some talented kids. Our athleticism has dramatically increased, and we can play with anyone if we're playing well. If we can play defense, play as a team and be mentally tough, we can be a pretty good team by the end of the year."
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