By Sean Ditmore/Staff Writer
For four years, Kendall Webb provided plenty of on-the-court answers for the Wayland Pioneers. His departure, however, left the team pondering an essential question: How could they successfully reinvent themselves following the loss of the men’s basketball program’s all-time leading scorer?
Now, nine games into Sooner Athletic Conference play, the Pioneers have already matched last season’s conference win total at six and are tied for second place in the conference with Southern Nazarene University. They are 10-6 overall, on pace to easily beat last year’s 12-17 record.
The reason for the improvement, despite not having the dynamic Webb, has a lot to do with what the Pioneers are doing whenever they don’t play basketball.
The Pioneers, who were near the bottom of the conference last season in most important defensive statistics such as field goal percentage and opponents points per game, are now leading the nation in field goal percentage defense. Teams are making only about 36 percent of their shots against the Pioneers. That’s 10 percent less than last season.
The Pioneers are also giving up less points per game than they did last season (74.3 points last season versus 63.8 points so far this year), and are forcing opponents into four more turnovers per game.
Surprisingly, Pioneer Coach Robert Davenport said the team’s defensive strategy has not undergone any significant changes since last season. Davenport said that his Pioneers will play a variety of defenses depending upon the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent.
“We’re not really doing anything differently,” Davenport said. “The improvement is just a testament to the guys on the team.”
Davenport also said that depth is a factor. Last year’s team played a short rotation and looked fatigued at the end of some games.
“When you’re playing as hard as you can and you know there is someone who can come in and capably fill your place, it makes it easier to play hard and believe in your teammate,” Davenport said.
The games against defending champs Oklahoma City and Southern Nazarene are still looming. The ultimate outcome of the Pioneers’ season will likely hinge upon whether they can continue to keep opposing offenses as chilly as the weather outside this time of year.
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