Being a defensive force is something the Purdue University North Central men’s basketball team prides itself on.
“We want to be a identified as a team that works hard on the defensive side of the floor,” Head Coach Matt Bush said. “So far (the players) have bought into that. It hasn’t shown so much in terms of results, but we are getting better.”
But the results of PNC’s defensive improvement did begin to show on Friday, November 22 - when the team held visiting Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) to less than 50 points, while nearly doubling their opponent in a 93-47 win at the La Porte Civic Auditorium.
The win was the Panthers’ third of the season, but a 95-73 triumph over Silver Lake College the following night has PNC back at the .500 mark - sporting a 4-4 mark on the year.
“We only won six games last year, but we can go as far as we want to go,” said junior guard Kewon Ollie. “We are looking to do much better than that this year and are improving every year. Our team chemistry is really coming along.”
Bush knows that while PNC may suffer a size disadvantage during some of their games, so being accurate from the field is imperative if the Panthers are to meet his goals.
“We have to be able to shoot well since we are not big,” Bush said. “We all need to improve our basketball IQ and start making better decisions.”
Nick Lafty, a junior guard playing in his third season with PNC, said the team’s “quickness and athleticism” is their strength and can be used to offset the size advantage some other teams may have.
“We are very exciting to watch, we have dunks in just about all of our games,” he said. Against IIT, three different players had scintillating dunks that had fans on their feet.
By the start of January, PNC will get another boost by adding six players to their roster who are not eligible to play until then.
With those additions and an ever-improving team chemistry, Bush has set his sights high on this season, and in the future.
“Our goal is to compete for a conference championship and win games at the (NAIA Division II) National Tournament,” he said. “In a couple of years we really want to be competing with some of the top teams nationally.”
If the Panthers are able to do that, they will have to get by a tough stretch of games on the 2013-14 slate. Among their conference opponents are defending NAIA champion Cardinal Strirtch University (WI), Robert Morris University (IL), Olivet Nazarene University (IL) and Saint Xavier University (IL), a team that boasts a top ten national ranking.
“We play in an awfully tough conference,” Bush said.
First-year player Josh Klein, a Valparaiso native who played high school hoops at New Prairie and has returned to the game with PNC after studying at Indiana State University for a year, says “it’s always tough to play Saint Xavier. They are always a good team.”
Ollie, who is from Merrillville, says he has the January 8 home tilt against rival Purdue University Calumet circled on his slate. Noah Allen, a player at PUC, was Ollie’s roommate when Ollie was at PUC during his freshman year.
“It’s always exciting playing against someone who know well and are friends with,” he said.
Lafty agrees. “You always want to beat the other Purdue team,” the third-year player said. “That’s one that is always circled on the schedule.”
Lafty, Ollie and Klein are all excited about continuing their basketball careers in Northwest Indiana, sometimes playing with and against former high school teammates and competitors.
“It’s nice to play close to home so you can play for your family. Sometimes my high school coach even comes to watch me play,” said Lafty, who played high school hoops for Hobart.
PNC plays all home games at the La Porte Civic Auditorium, which is not the prototypical college gymnasium - but provides a unique backdrop for a great sports atmosphere.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as a whole is a fun level of basketball, and the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) is interesting to follow. The CCAC features players who are passionate and dedicated to competing just for the the love of basketball. The PNC team gives fans a fast-paced game and an opportunity to continue to follow some of their favorite high school players and see the tremendous strides they have made. Fans get the skill of a college game with the enthusiasm often brought during high school rivalry games.
The Panthers also feature an exciting trap-defense that is tough for any team to break. With their defensive ability to create turnovers, the Panthers can find their way back in games better than some of their opponents.
“We want to get more fans from La Porte and Porter counties out here to see us play,” Bush said. “We bring an exciting brand of basketball.”