By Dave Wagner
From four wins in his first season to its first NCAA Division II tournament bid in 11 years this season, the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball program has made steady progress under fourth-year coach Shawn Scanlan.
This season, the Hounds (21-9) repeated al Lone Star Conference South champions and made the South Central Regional Tournament, only to be bounced out by eventual champion Northwest Missouri State in the first round.
“The one thing I’ve got to say about our year is that the regular-season accomplishment was very special,” Scanlan said this week from Hutchinson, Kan., where he was scouting the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament. “It’s hard to be a champion in the Lone Star once, and it’s that much more difficult to do it back-to-back. That’s something these guys need to be proud of.”
The postseason was tougher on the Hounds — a nine-point loss at home to Southwestern Oklahoma in the first round of the LSC tournament, and the 77-57 setback to Northwest on Saturday in which the Hounds took themselves out of the game with 15 first-half turnovers.
“The postseason was a disappointment because we knew when we left the floor we didn’t play the way we should have,” Scanlan said. “We played awfully hard; we just didn’t play very well.”
Six of their top nine players are set to return next season, and all will be seniors. The Hounds will have to replace guard-forward Garland Coleman, the only player who has been with Scanlan all four years, and point guards Brent Cooper and David Hamilton.
With teams playing more and more zone against them as the season went on, recruiting another shooter to go with juniors Kennis Green and Jamal Washington will be a priority — right behind finding a point guard.
“That’s the most glaring need,” Scanlan said. “We could take a couple of point guards, or we could try to find a point guard who can also be a shooter, and then maybe (add) another shooter.”
Washington turned into one of the season’s pleasant surprises, Scanlan said. A transfer from a California junior college, he grew into his role as a sparkplug off the bench.
“It would be kind of selfish of me thinking I should start, since we had some seniors and some guys who had been here for two or three years,” said Washington, who averaged 8.3 points in 22 minutes a game. “It doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t capable of starting, but (it requires) a different type of energy.”
After starting off 2-3, ENMU put together an eight-game winning streak and stayed fairly consistent through most of the regular season. A 19-point loss at home to Texas A&M-Kingsville in mid-February put the division title in jeopardy, but the Hounds nailed it down with road wins against Angelo State and Abilene Christian.
Despite that, Washington said the loss to Kingsville was symptomatic of a late-season downturn.
“It was hard to take; it kind of humbled us,” he said of the Kingsville loss. “(But) we’d been playing kind of stagnant (late in the season). Even in the games we won, we were playing below our capability.”
Still, at 10-2 in the South, Scanlan said the Hounds probably exceeded expectations.
“As balanced as our (division) was, I’m surprised anybody could go 10-2,” he said. “I think everybody was so close. It really was a major accomplishment.”