Things were looking bleak. The Queens College men’s basketball team just suffered a 12 point defeat to the University of the District of Columbia. Not only did the Knights lose by double digits, but they traveled 211 miles to Washington D.C. to do so. This marked the third consecutive loss for the Knights and left their record at 2-4. That was December 11th. Cut to today, February 24th, and the Knights are 10-10, going 8-6 since that loss, and are currently one game out from third place in the East Coast Conference (ECC). The Knight News recently sat down with Knights Head Coach Matthew Collier to discuss the season thus far. “We had to be patient with ourselves and not expect immediate results right away even though we feel we have the talent and we were competing,” Coach Collier said about how the team handled the aforementioned loss. “They haven’t played together, a lot of guys, it was only their second college basketball game [and] their first on the road in a pretty hostile environment. So, it was a lot of things we had to work on but we were patient and kept our perspective that we were instituting new things for everyone, including myself.”
For Coach Collier, not only was he coming off an unprecedented year-long break during his 20-year coaching stint, but he had essentially a whole new roster on his spreadsheet. The only two returning players from the 2019-20 season (the 2020-21 season was voided due to COVID-19) are seniors Eddie Mehmetaj and Evan Goldberg. Everyone else is either a transfer or underclassman—completely new to the team.
“The players didn’t know each other on the court, off the court, the opportunities to even interact over the summer were omitted because of COVID-19 … I think from the beginning we emphasized communication and guys getting to know each other as people then transferring that to the court. To the players’ credit, I think they bought into that, and we came together — I think our chemistry on and off the court has improved every single day.” That is apparent when you look at the choking defense the Knights have displayed this season. They’re currently second in the ECC in points allowed per game at 68.8. This isn’t by fault, as Coach Collier took the opportunity presented by the year-long break due to the pandemic to study the systems and patterns in the ECC, as well as the region as a whole.
“We attack way more on defense, we’re more aggressive. We switched our mentality to where we attack more… we’re going to make you do things you don’t want to do,” Coach Collier said. “Our game plan is to make the players on the other team uncomfortable every time they have the ball and we try to disrupt their actions before they happen instead of guarding them after they happen.”
Under this system, the Knights have allowed the least amount of three-pointers in the ECC this season at 112. However, they’ve only made 90 three-pointers. In modern basketball, you see teams shoot more threes than they ever have, but Coach Collier was straightforward when asked if the team would be able to keep up with opposing teams throwing up more long bombs.
“So if you notice, we have been keeping up with them. Our three-point shooting on offense hasn’t affected our overall plan… we’re disrupting what you want to do; we’re disrupting what you think you may consider a strength of your team. We don’t feel we need to keep up with them, because when you’re playing us, you’re not shooting that many [three-pointers].” The statistics back this up. The Knights have only had an astounding 330 threes attempted against them—over 150 less than the next most threes attempted against a team in the ECC. Collier’s late nights studying his opponents have paid off on that front.
As for individuals, a few stand above the rest, though the Knights are wholeheartedly a unit, and no one superstar garners all the attention. Mehmetaj, who Coach Collier called the team’s ‘rock,’ is averaging 9.2 points, 8.8 rebounds (fourth in the ECC), and 3.0 assists per game; the latter two lead the team. Redshirt freshman and athletic guard Jayden Seraphin has been stellar, averaging 10.8 points and 1.2 steals per game on the season and, in the last three contests, 18.3 points with 1.0 steals per game. Sophomore guard Dion Herrington is the team’s leading scorer (11.5 points per game), as he’s had three twenty-plus point performances thus far. All of this points towards an exciting future for the Knights. When asked what he looks forward to the most this season, Coach Collier continued to praise improvement and a sense of togetherness.
“We’ve gotten a lot better, but we’ve still got a long way to go and a lot of improvements to make to step it up even more. That’s an exciting thing and place to be. That’s what I’m looking forward to, that journey with these guys and growing as people number one and basketball players as well. We can be successful if we continue to prepare the right way.” The Knights host D’Youville College (2-23) tonight at 7:30 pm and will honor their seniors Saturday evening at 1:30 pm against Daemen College (18-7).