Montreat men’s basketball head coach Garrett Jones knew prior to the season what his team’s challenge would be this year.
“The guys are starting to learn what it looks like to be consistent, night in and night out, and I think that’s something that we’ve struggled with since I’ve been here,” Jones said back in November. “We’ve been fortunate enough to win some games, but some nights we’re just not where we need to be and we’re not sharp.”
That is beginning to change. In baseball, the term “stopper” typically applies to a pitcher who can be relied on to come in and right a team’s fortunes and snap a losing streak. Fortunately for this year’s Cavaliers team, they’ve collectively been their own best stopper and have a 16-4 overall mark as evidence.
In late November, the Cavs fell to the Bryan College Lions on the road, 65-64. They came in undefeated, while the Lions came in with a pedestrian 4-5 record and having just dropped a contest by 33 points to Union the week before.
Montreat then returned home looking to rebound and instead fell in a disappointing 98-83 decision to Johnson University (Tenn.) at McAlister. The Royals were 2-8 coming into the game, although better than their record indicated. Johnson shot 48% from beyond the arc to seal the upset win and deal the Cavs their second-straight loss.
Montreat’s next game was against rival Milligan, on the road in Tennessee. Nicodemus Payne (16), Jeron Hemphill(16), and Terrell Sheffey (15) collectively ensured the losing streak would end at two by putting up 47 points in total, and pulling down 24 rebounds. The result was a 73-63 win over the archrival Buffs. Cavs was still 7-2 overall and 6-1 in the conference.
After rattling off five straight wins, including a Jan. 8 victory over Union, Montreat dropped two of three, with losses to Columbia International (S.C.) and Allen sandwiched around a victory over Reinhardt. Thirty points from Daniel Vitiello off the bench against Reinhardt in the middle frame helped prevent a three-game slide.
It was senior Alonzo Mobley’s 22 points against Tennessee Wesleyan on January 16 that put the Cavs back on track and moved them to 13-4 overall and still in the thick of the AAC race. At the time, the 22 points were the best from Mobley this season.
The victory also began their current four-game winning streak that saw the team defeat St. Andrews on Saturday, 100-73, to move to 13-3 in the conference. Showing the diversity of scoring that has helped the Cavs shape an outstanding season, junior Austin Butler was the night’s leading scorer, pouring in 25 points.
As of Jan. 26, that mark had them with a 1.5 game lead over the Union Bulldogs (16-6, 11-4) and on top of the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC).
The Cavs have seven games left in their 2018-19 schedule with a possible conference regular season title on the line when they host Union on Feb. 16.