MISHAWAKA -- Coach Steve Drabyn, the Bethel University men’s basketball coach, learned a lot about his team and their Crossroads League opponents last season. Like most coaches coming into their second season with a team, Drabyn said he has a better idea of what to expect.
Drabyn coached Bethel to 15-0 start last season, tied for the second-best start in Bethel men’s basketball program history. But once Bethel started conference play, reality set in.
“I was just blown away [by] how good our league is,” Drabyn said. “It’s just, from an offensive skill standpoint to the coaching, [the Crossroads league] is really good.”
Bethel ended last season with a 22-11 record, with 10 of those losses coming from conference games. The experience inspired Drabyn and his coaching staff to change a few strategies.
First, the coaching staff changed the type of players they wanted to recruit. Drabyn said they also have changed the way they are coaching. The team is putting more emphasis on improving their defense during practices.
“We’re just trying to get better every day,” Drabyn said. “If all 15 individual players, and us coaches … can all try to get a little bit better each day, that cumulative effect over time is going to pay huge dividends.”
Bethel’s defense proved to be a weak spot early on in their season opener against Indiana University Northwest. Bethel allowed IU Northwest to score 56 points in the paint throughout the game. Drabyn said his team struggled to guard the ball and force tough shots outside the paint.
With nearly 12 minutes left in the first half, IU Northwest held a 21-point lead over Bethel.
“We played a team that was a tough guard for us,” Drabyn said. “They played a kind of … one-on-one isolation type stuff, put us in a lot of tough defensive positions and they made plays. They made shots.”
The other challenge IU Northwest presented was that they played all five smaller players. Bethel typically starts with one larger, post player alongside smaller forwards and guards. As a result, the post player could not be utilized as much, and the team had to somewhat improvise.
But they were able to close the gap and regain the lead with 8:51 remaining in the game. According to the Bethel Athletics website, Senior TreVion Crews led Bethel with 24 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Senior Zac Owens followed behind with 19 points and five assists.
Bethel squeaked by with the win, 93-88.
Going into their second game against Lourdes University, Drabyn said they knew one of Lourdes’ strengths is scoring in the paint. Bethel Assistant Coach Mark Polsgrove found a weakness in Lourdes’ scouting report from last year.
“[In] all of their losses from the previous year, they scored less 40 points in the paint,” Drabyn said. “So, that was a huge goal for us going in. If we could hold them under 40 points in the paint, we would have a good chance to win the game.”
Polsgrove said the coaching staff also put a huge emphasis on winning one-on-one matchups. As a result, Bethel only allowed Lourdes to score 32 points in the paint.
Crews and Owens both were able to put up their second consecutive, high-scoring performances. Bethel ended up with its second win, 87-81.
Shortly thereafter, one of the Bethel players tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Once Bethel’s next three opponents heard about the one positive case, the three teams immediately cancelled.
“I was a little surprised by that because we’re able to play if we have less than three [players] positive,” Drabyn said. “If we have three players test positive, then we’re not allowed to play.”
The Crossroads League and Bethel University are allowing the men’s basketball to compete if they have less than three players test positive. However, some schools are enforcing stricter rules.
Bethel could not play until Saturday, Nov. 14. Five Bethel players ended up testing positive for COVID-19, while three additional players had to quarantine. At one point, only six players were cleared to practice as a team.
Since three of the six players who could practice had had COVID-19 within the last month, they practiced in partners. A player who had not yet contracted COVID-19 partnered with a player who had. Each group worked on shooting, conditioning and free throws at their own basket.
Besides one player, everyone from quarantine was cleared in time to play against Cornerstone University. Despite the challenges of social distancing and quarantining, Polsgrove thought some players actually improved.
“They were still able to work out on their own,” Polsgrove said, speaking of the players who had to quarantine. “It was something different, but I think our player development actually improved. Our players really improved their game.”
Prior to the game, Owens said the team had to regain its rhythm in order to beat Cornerstone. He and Crews again led the team in scoring against Cornerstone, but their efforts fell short. Bethel suffered their first loss of the season, losing 85-79.
Following the game, the Bethel athletics website quoted Drabyn saying his team played well in transition and got the ball in the paint. According to Drabyn, bad turnovers and missed two’s cost Bethel the win.
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Owens still thinks Bethel has the potential to do well against the Crossroads League this season. He said he is excited for what is to come this season.
“We have a lot of pieces,” Owens said. “I honestly think we have the best guards in the country and just to see how good we can be as a team, I think is very scary for the Crossroads League.”
Bethel’s next game, on Nov. 18 at 8 p.m., will be against Governors State University. The game will be live-streamed here.