After a rough non-conference schedule that included traveling to Las Vegas, NV., for the d3hoops.com classic, the UWSP men’s basketball team is defining its season in conference play.
UWSP was picked to finish fifth in the conference by Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference head coaches and sports information directors before the season began, and now the Pointers stand atop the conference with a 9-1 record and a 15-6 overall record.
“We knew coming in that the only people betting on ourselves were us,” junior forward Canon O’Heron said.
“Now that we’re at the top of the conference, there’s kind of more pressure on us. Teams are definitely going to come after us a little bit harder in every game, so we’ve got to be really well prepared,” senior guard M.J. Delmore said.
Stevens Point has had to find players to step up in the absence of last year’s leading scorer, Ethan Bublitz, who was shut down after experiencing ankle pain from a lingering injury in September of 2017.
The Pointers lost two of its first three games but responded with two separate five-game winning streaks down the stretch.
“We thought we would struggle early,” head coach Bob Semling said. “It took us awhile to kind of find our way and figure out some new roles and identity.”
One of the players that has found a big role in the offense has been junior guard Nate Dodge. The Army transfer has led the Pointers in seven major statistical categories including scoring (275 points), scoring average per game (13.1 points) and field goals made (91).
When asked how it felt to have this success, Dodge said, “Good, I can’t complain… It’s just fun playing basketball.”
In addition to these feats, Dodge also broke the school record for made three-pointers with 10 against Hope College on Dec. 9.
“He came off the bench early on in the season, now he’s starting and it’s a good punch,” Delmore said.
“Whenever you’re in trouble, just look for 13, he can bail you out. He makes some of the most unreal shots that I have ever seen,” O’Heron said.
The team has already eclipsed last season’s victory total of 14 by winning 15 games this season.
The improvement by the team can be attributed to having Semling back as its head coach after serving a suspension last season.
“He’s been a part of so many great teams in Pointer history and he’s got an unbelievable knowledge of the game,” Dodge said.
“I think it shows that having a coach for a full season helps,” Delmore said.
Semling has helped bring four national championships to the university and has been selected WIAC Coach of the Year four times during his span with the team which dates to 2006.
“I think the energy that he brings every day really helps keep our energy high,” O’Heron said. “He’s really motivating and inspiring every day.”
Semling noted that the team is not exactly where it wants to be yet but there is time to improve and players agree.
“We’re still trying to fix a few things defensively, but we’re confident that we can become one of the best defensive teams in the country by the time that the year is over,” O’Heron said.
“I think shooting is probably our best strength, we have a lot of great shooters and I think we’re starting to come around with our defense as well too,” junior Brett Tauber said.
As the post-season draws near, the team looks forward to extending its season after not being able to the prior season because of a ban.
“Now that we have an end goal here with the conference tournament and hopefully the NCAA tournament, it gives us a little bit extra motivation every single day to come out and work hard,” O’Heron said.
As the team finds a balance both offensively and defensively, the group has been gaining momentum and now looks to cement its name in history as it has done so many times already.