As quickly as it began, the season-opening three-game winning streak for the Casper College Men’s Basketball team flipped into a three-game losing streak.
Shorthanded and battered, the Thunderbirds still held a 20-point lead over Laramie County Community College in the second half on Nov. 7 before that lead faded into oblivion. A missed free throw, which would have put the T-Birds ahead, was rebounded and the Golden Eagles went the length of the court to net the game-winning bucket.
Improbable as it was, the T-Birds were shaken by the massive comeback they allowed that spawned a three-game losing streak. Now, the team and head coach Dan Russell look at it as the point where their season changed.
That skid could have extended well past three games, but his team showed a massive amount of perseverance to turn their fortunes into its current six-game winning streak after a 111-59 victory over the Wyoming All-Stars on Thursday.
“We had gone through some injuries and we were kind of playing on our heels when they started pressing us,” Russell said of that LCCC game. “It was a good learning experience for our guys, we needed to see something like that.”
What that game did do was teach the T-Birds’ young group of guards to handle pressure. Freshman Isaiah Banks has earned significant minutes since their first loss of the season. Against the Golden Eagles he played 18 minutes and had 10 assists off the bench. He also had four turnovers and four fouls.
He will have to be better in order for the T-Birds to make a charge later in the year.
“Whatever the opponent throws at us we have to be ready for it and our guards have to play with a little more poise and more moxy,” Russell said. “And they’re just not there yet.”
To be fair, Casper College has played without its optimal lineup.
Sophomore guard Chase Winchester just got his medical release but continues to recover and rehabilitate from a broken foot, while sophomore guard Damian Wilson has been battling groin issues. Their absences have opened a window of opportunity for their teammates to jump through.
During the current winning streak, the T-Birds are averaging 92.2 points per game and have scored 80 or more points in all but one of the six games.
“It’s not easy for a bunch of sophomores and freshmen to go on a three-game losing streak,” Russell said. “But they showed up every day to compete in practice and it goes to show what type of resiliency and toughness these guys have.
“We may not be the most talented team in the country, but these guys fight and they really play hard and they’re unselfish. Our season could have easily tanked on a three-game losing streak and they didn’t, they continued to fight, now we’re 9-3.”
Casper College rides its momentum into the final three games of 2017. The offense hopes to maintain its intensity in those games but what looms after is a different story.
The junior college break is a long one for athletes and Casper College is no exception. The T-Birds will not play a regular-season basketball game between Dec. 15 and Jan. 8. That gives the offense and the hot shooting hands plenty of time to cool off.
“We always say there are three different seasons in the junior college ranks,” Russell said. “There’s the first season, first semester, then you go on that big long break. For some guys it’s good and for some guys it’s not good, depending on how they handle that break.
“Then you have the conference season and then you’ve got your postseason.”
Russell did say the majority of the team will stay on campus during the long break, which will give them an opportunity to continue practicing and conditioning.
Even as they demolished the Wyoming All-Stars on Thursday, Russell wasn’t content with the 14 turnovers. That’s been one of the biggest issues with his team all season and the young backcourt doesn’t help limit mistakes.
That’s a point of emphasis ahead of their second season.
“I think it’s from lack of experience with our guard play,” Russell said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve really turned it over and that’s one thing, come conference play, you have to take care of the basketball and value it, value our passes.”