WSU men’s hoops set to tip off

The Owls men's basketball team readies for their season opener. (WSU File Photo)

The Owls men’s basketball team readies for their season opener. (WSU File Photo)

WESTFIELD – The Westfield State Owls’ men’s basketball team begins its 2015-16 campaign in the upcoming Rick Martin/Holiday Inn Express Tournament Friday, November 13 at the Woodward Center, looking to build upon the success they’ve had in recent years.
Westfield State won 20 games a year ago and qualified for the NCAA tournament, but graduated five senior starters. In January, Sutter went to the all-senior starting lineup, as the Owls reeled off 15 of 16 games before falling to Babson in the opening round NCAA tournament.
Despite the success from last season, the Owls placed fifth out of seven teams in a MASCAC preseason coaches’ poll.
The Owls will have to find different ways to score after graduating their top three scorers and more than 75 percent of their points from last season. Among the players lost was leading scorer and rebounder Grant Cooper, who averaged 17.3 points per game and 8.9 rebounds in 2014-15.
Head coach Rich Sutter returns to the bench for his 18th season. He leads a young and exciting team that looks to showcase its talent.
“A lot of people do not think we will be good because we’ve lost five seniors but it happens. Kids graduate but I think we have a good group,” said Sutter when asked about this year’s team.
Junior guard Jesus Sanchez figures to play a bigger role offensively. Sanchez started 10 games last year and was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. In 19 minutes per game, Sanchez averaged 7.7 points on 45.5 percent shooting.
Sanchez will likely be joined in the backcourt by 6-foot-3 sophomore Allister Williams at point guard. Williams played just 87 minutes as a freshman, but he’s a fluid athlete who averaged 19.6 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists as a senior at Bedford High School, shooting 37 percent on three-pointers.
Sophomore Phillip DiPhillipo, a hard-nosed defender, should also see some time at point guard for Owls, while explosive junior forward Nathan Powers looks to mature into a high-minute player on the wing.
Sutter will look to 6-foot-6 sophomore center Shane Pasquantonio and high-flying senior forward Tchuijo Nkamebo to control the paint defensively for the Owls.
Playing in 14 games after winter break, Pasquantonio showed good finishing ability around the rim and will likely draw the opponent’s top post-up threat on defense. Nkamebo led the team last season in blocks per 40 minutes at 1.85, while also averaging 9.9 rebounds per 40.
Brian Foley, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, looks to build upon a solid junior year. Foley was second on the team in field goal percentage shooting just over 56 percent.
After graduating all five starters, the biggest challenge for Sutter may be figuring out a reliable and consistent starting lineup. The Owls return just two seniors, and only three players who played more than 10 minutes per game last season.
Westfield will have to develop its young talent on the fly and gain experience throughout the season. Though the Owls may suit up as many as five freshmen in the opener on Friday, Sutter does not expect any of them to crack the starting lineup.
“I’m not sure. We are not big on [starting freshmen],” Sutter said. “I don’t hold them back either. If they are ready to go, they are ready to go.”
Cam Earle, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, is one of the freshmen who could crack the Owls’ rotation this season. In his senior year at South Hadley High, Earle averaged 23.7 points per game and led the Tigers to a Division II Western Mass. championship, scoring 31 points per game in the postseason. The lights-out shooter made 153 three-pointers and scored 1,015 points in his high school career.
Another freshman to look out for is 6-foot-5 forward Dan Lanoue, who figures to add much-needed depth to the Owls’ frontcourt.
Kevan Cuffie, a 6-foot-6 freshman, should also see major minutes in the frontcourt when he returns from an ACL injury in January. The former local high school standout at New Leadership Charter School is long and athletic, with a soft shooting touch, and will bring versatility to both ends of the court for the Owls.
Although the Owls are young, many players returning will have another year of experience in Sutter’s system. Sutter has led Westfield to winning seasons in 11 of the 13 past seasons.
Last year’s team finished the season at 20-7. Though it will be hard to duplicate last season’s success, the talent on this year’s team leaves many excited about the future. When asked to project his team’s win total for the season, Sutter said he does not predict the future, but added, “I can tell you we are going to fight. We are going to play hard.”
Intense play has been consistent in the Sutter era and this year figures to be no different.
The Owls are scheduled to play against Western New England University on November 13th at 5:30pm in the Rick Martin/Holiday Inn Express season-opening tournament, followed by either a championship or consolation game on Saturday.

To Top