On Saturday, November 11 a win over Valley Forge lifted the Mercer County Men’s basketball team to a 3-1 record, put them over .500 for the first time since 2014 and surpassing their win total from last year’s 2-24 campaign. In the three weeks following that victory, they dropped five straight games falling to 3-6 to finish the month of November.
However, according to head coach Howard Levy, the three wins early on were not a part of the team’s goals. He says he believes that they have made progress in their development even during the losing streak.
“Doing better than a two-win season is not the goal around here. The goal is to win a championship,” Levy said. He continued: “I don’t feel like we were playing great and all of a sudden we’re doing poorly now. I think that we were making progress and we’re learning our way of playing. I feel like we’re making progress every game.”
On Saturday, Dec. 2 the Vikings played the Delaware Technical Community College Hawks, which had won five of their past seven games. In that game, Levy and his team made significant progress toward their championship aspirations at the same time as putting their losing streak behind them. They took an 84-64 victory in what Levy described as one of the best efforts he’s seen in recent memory.
“It’s probably the first time in over two years where we played like I think our team is capable of playing.” Levy said, adding: “We worked for 40 minutes. We controlled the game with our offense and our defense. It was a really great effort, the best effort I’ve seen in a long time around here.”
Freshman guard Donovan Guess, a Camden native, lifted Mercer’s offense with a game-leading 33 points in his highest-scoring performance of the year.
“We just gotta stick with the offense, it’s a pretty hard offense so we tend to break it fast, but if we stick with it, we’re gonna do good,” Guess told The VOICE.
Mercer exchanged leads with their opponent five times, but outscored the Hawks 31-11 in the final 10 minutes, winning by their largest margin this season.
“It makes everybody a little bit less miserable, and I think the things that we did is all the things we’ve been telling them for the whole season. I think they saw how successful it can be so hopefully it will help them believe in what we’re doing,” Levy said.
Levy’s team took a different approach to their preparation for this game than they had in previous weeks. In an interview with the VOICE freshman point guard, John Evans said that the players ran their own drills on the Friday before the game.
“The coaches actually made us run our own practice. Basically, he made us run our own practice to see if we can all come together and play as a team, and that’s what we did Saturday.”
According to Evans, the players were given two hours to practice while the coaches watched from the bleachers. As opposed to the stretches and drills that typically make up a practice, they instead ran drills.
“We did stuff that made us compete more to get us ready for the actual game…” Evans said. He added, “We just had to know how to come together and play as a team when times get hard. If you’re struggling you just gotta know how to build it up and play as one instead of playing as an individual because one person can’t win a game for all of us.”
Now the players leading practice has become a regular part of the team’s routine. According to Evans, in the team’s two practices following the victory the players have been put in charge of running the first thirty minutes of each session, with the goal to increase team cohesion heading into the rest of the season.