Warren Wilson basketball relies on defense for tourney

Fred McCormick

With 11:33 left in the home game against Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte last week, Warren Wilson College senior forward Tyler Triplett hit a three-pointer to give the Owls a 53-50 lead. The scene was a familiar one for Owls’ fans who have seen their team shoot one of the highest three-point field goal percentages in USCAA D-II basketball this season.

But it was the way the Warren Wilson defense refused to relinquish the lead that offered a glimpse of what it will take for the Owls to get where they want to go this year.

Warren Wilson has been on a tear since January. The team finished January by winning five in a row and has remained hot, winning eifht of its last nine leading up to its Feb. 16 game against Montreat (results not available as of press time).

The Owls, who have been energized by first-year head coach Anthony Barringer, have played a high-energy brand of basketball that emphasizes defensive stops and features a barrage of three-pointers.

Warren Wilson has taken more threes than almost any other team in the league this season. And with players like senior Tyler Triplett and Justin Gonyea shooting around 45 and 47 percent respectively from behind the arc, the Owls are hitting three-pointers at a higher percentage than almost any other team as well.

The surging Owls jumped to sixth in the polls, leading up to their home game against then-fifth-ranked Johnson & Wales, who beat Warren Wilson by one in January. Barringer said the Owls were hungry for a rematch against the Wildcats, who they felt they should have beaten in the first contest.

“All week I had the score, 84-83, from the last time we played them on our scoreboard,” he said. “We knew that we should have beat them at their place.”

The 88-83 victory against Johnson & Wales at home was a glimpse into what the Owls will need to do to carry their success into the postseason.

“We have to defend. It’s essential,” Barringer said. “I can’t say that I’m ecstatic about how we’ve played defense for 40 minutes, but I can say that we’ve grown in a big way in the last five to 10 minutes of ballgames, defensively.”

Barringer believes that as the season winds down, the Owls’ defense will continue to improve. As the level of competition increases in the tournament beginning in March, his rotating cast of players will need to “win their one-on-one” match-ups and communicate on defense, he said.

With much of the offensive firepower coming from seniors Justin Gonyea and Tyler Triplett, Barringer is counting on major contributions from his bench players on the defensive side of the ball.

Barringer pointed to players like junior Thomas Hay and former Owen standout Michael Pomeroy as his “high-energy guys” who play hard in order to make defensive stops. Hay, who was a starter on the team until a shoulder injury limited his playing time, has adapted nicely to the role.

“Thomas Hay may be the most intense guy I’ve ever been around,” Barringer said. “We bump heads from time to time, but you can never question his effort.”

Hay has put off having surgery on an injured labrum until after the season in order to contribute to a team that he said is “determined to get the job done.”

“Playing every possession knowing like ‘this could be the last one, or this next one could be it’ has definitely made me appreciate being on the court more and being with these guys every chance I can,” he said.

Hay’s intensity on the court and investment in his teammates has been contagious. Pomeroy, who was known for his scoring during his high school career, has enjoyed the playing time he has seen in his first year with Warren Wilson.

“It’s the ideal kind of play,” he said. “Getting up and down the court, face-paced, it’s basically the way you start playing the game when you’re in Rec league. It’s how everybody wants to play basketball and we’re capable of doing it.”