It has been a struggle, but the Christ College Irvine men’s basketball team seems to be on the right track after a dismal start.
After losing their first four games and six of their first seven, the Eagles (5-8) have won four of their past five entering their holiday tournament this weekend.
“We’ve been talking a lot about expecting to win,” said Greg Marshall, the Eagles’ first-year coach. “It’s a small difference but that expectation to succeed is hard to teach. I think we’ve made some headway in buying into that.”
After one loss in November, in which Christian Heritage attempted 47 free throws, Marshall called his defense a “Texas Chain Saw defense” but he has since been seeing better play. CCI opponents are shooting only 40% from the field and 59% from the line this season.
Marshall, who took the CCI job last spring, said it has taken the players awhile to get used to his system. Also, Marshall has had to juggle newcomers and veterans from the team that went 11-20 last season and deal with the loss of two key players, one for the season and the other for all but six games so far.
Corey Smith, a freshman from Glendora High, and Ian Donnelly, a junior transfer from Cypress College--are leading the Eagles in scoring at 14.3 and 13.8 points, but the returning players who were expected to contribute have struggled.
Jamie McShan, a senior guard who led the team in scoring with an 18-point average last season, has moved to point guard and has only recently begun to score as much as expected. He is third on the team, averaging 12.6 points.
Keith Rogers, a 6-6 senior forward who was among the top three-point shooters in the NAIA District 3 last season, was ineligible for the first four games of the season. After averaging eight points in his first six games, Rogers has missed the past three games with tonsillitis.
Marshall had expected Mike Rogers (no relation to Keith) to be the starting point guard but Rogers didn’t complete enough units in the fall quarter to become eligible for his senior season.
Marshall tried Smith at the point early in the season before moving McShan into the position.
"(McShan is) just now starting to find his way,” Marshall said. “I feel like we just keep getting better. We’ve made a major improvement from where we started and that’s what you like to see.”
The basketball rivalries may not be up to the caliber of UCLA versus Notre Dame, but within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the CCI Christmas Tournament this weekend is no less important, Marshall said.
After a game at 6 p.m. Friday between Concordia St. Paul and Concordia Portland, CCI will play Concordia River Forest at 8. The winners will play for the championship at 8 p.m. Saturday.
“These games may be more important than the district playoff games for us,” Marshall said. “It’s for bragging rights within the church.”
After playing teams from each end of the college basketball spectrum last week, the Chapman men’s team returns to action on Friday against opponents its own size at the Cal State Chico tournament.
As expected, the Panthers (6-5) had no trouble beating Pacific Christian of the National Christian College Athletic Assn. Thursday and lost to Division I Cal State Fullerton Saturday.
Chapman opens the eight-team Chico tournament at 2 p.m. Friday against Division II Humboldt State.