Ichabods have favorable home slate chasing MIAA teams down stretch

Slick Scott Sophomore guard Mario Scott, No. 32, has averaged 7.8 points and 4.1 assists per game for the Ichabods this season.

It’s make or break time for the Ichabods.

Every year, when mid-February rolls around, teams and their fans start looking ahead to March and a postseason that diehard hoops fans simply call “Christmas.” Teams are placed on the brackets with care, in hopes that March Madness soon will be there.

“There’s not a lot of games left,” said senior forward Kyle Snyder. “We just have six games left in the regular season. If we’re going to make a run, we have to come in and do it now.”

Four of those six games are at Lee Arena, where Washburn has been nearly unbeatable. Something will have to give in the next game, as the Bods put their 8-1 home record on the line against Southwest Baptist and their MIAA-best 10-2 conference record.

“We just lost by one when we played there,” said Snyder. “It went down to the last minute, but we couldn’t pull out the win. It’ll be good to have the chance to play them at home.”

The Bearcats have been at the top of the conference standings all season long, but have had few tests as tough as their 82-81 win against the Bods four weeks ago.

“It’s just so tough to win on the road in this conference,” said senior guard Andrew Meile. “It’s such a big advantage to play at home, because you want to protect your home court, and when they’re at home they’re trying to do the same.”

Although the two teams are not in direct competition for placement in the postseason, both have motivation to impact where the other ends up in March. A Washburn win would hurt SBU’s chance at a regular season MIAA crown, while a Bearcat victory would move the Bods one game closer to last place.

“They’re a really good team,” said Meile. “They’ve been at the top of the standings and in the national and regional rankings all season long.”

The Bearcats are ranked No. 15 nationally and No. 2 in the South Central region. A 5-7 record good for eighth in the MIAA may sound like another disappointing season for the Bods but a strong finish can erase the sting Washburn has felt from the lows of an up and down season.

“If we can string together some wins,” said Snyder, “it’s not out of the question for us to finish in the top half of the MIAA.”

The Bods’ position near the cellar of the conference is not as dire as it sounds, mainly because of the MIAA’s parity. After the win against Pittsburg State Saturday, Washburn is tied with the Gorillas, one game behind fourth in the standings and just two games behind third.

“Beating Pitt is huge for our confidence,” said Snyder. “They’re such a big, physical team that it feels good when you come away with a win. Every win from here on out is big for us.”

A finish in the top half, maybe even in the top four of the MIAA, may sound unlikely for a team that has missed the conference tournament in each of the past two seasons. However, the Bods control their own destiny, and will do so on their own court.

“I hated our schedule at the start,” said junior guard James Williams. “We were playing on the road every game, it seemed like. But now, I like it cause we get to play all those teams again at home.”

Most of the losses Washburn has suffered on the road have been close, and having the rematches in Lee Arena could give the Bods the edge they need to get over the hump and ensure they don’t spend this year’s holidays at home.

“We have a good team,” said coach Bob Chipman. “We lost three road games by one point, and we lost by five at Emporia, which was hard to take. But winning at home just restores your confidence.”

Chipman believes that four straight road losses are not cause for panic.

“You lose those close games on the road,” said Chipman. “And then you start to lose a little bit of that swagger. Then all of a sudden you start to think you’re just not playing well. But this team knows we were in all those games, and that we’re good enough to win.”

If the Bods play as well as they did in their last game against PSU, they should be able to show a few teams what it’s like to go on the road and be handed a close, but demoralizing loss.

“We’ve managed to stay in the conference race and keep playing hard,” said Chipman. “Now, we’ve been rewarded and we have all these home games. Every conference game is huge, but these last few are going to decide what happens for us in the postseason.”