Third-year Schenectady coach Eric Loudis thought he had something special as his boys’ basketball team began to mesh in the preseason.
Three games into the Patriots’ Big 10 schedule, three double-digit wins have only enhanced his assessment.
“My first team and this team are very similar in that the majority of these kids have no varsity experience.” Loudis said before Wednesday’s workout at the Pat Riley Sports Center. “We only had three guys back that first year, and only three guys are back from last year, but they’re picking things up and working hard. I like this group. I like the way they go about things.
“The atmosphere in the gym is different. These guys want to change things around.”
Schenectady can do that in a big way in its next two games, home contests tonight against Troy and Tuesday against Christian Brothers Academy.
The Patriots have never beaten either team in Loudis’ varsity coaching career, though the first two games in the 2010-11 season were close as Troy pulled out a 61-58 victory before CBA registered a 50-44 win on consecutive outings after Schenectady had opened at 3-0.
The two games that came later that season were not as competitive. Troy and CBA swept Schenectady last season, all four games decided by at least 18 points.
“We’ve got a little something going, and I want people to keep coming. I want to bring the buzz back,” said Loudis. “If we can get two wins in a row, or even one win, it’s going to go through the roof. These teams have been roadblocks.”
Troy has been among Section II’s premier teams for several years, and CBA for even longer. Troy captured the Big 10 title last season, and CBA snared its fourth straight Section II Class AA championship with an overtime win against the Flying Horses.
“We were right there with them a couple of times. We want to get over the hump,” said Loudis. “We’ve got to battle, but we can’t force things. We’ve got to be smart.”
Schenectady opened its season at home with a 67-39 win over Bishop Maginn before posting road victories at Catholic Central (73-51) and Albany (69-51).
“Those wins put us in a way better position than last year,” said 6-foot-6 senior center Darius Macon, one of the veterans from last season’s 6-13 squad (the Pats went 13-7 in 2010-11). “We’re coming into this stretch sky high.”
Macon has emerged as Schenectady’s leader with three superb performances. Against Albany, he collected 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists, eight blocked shots and four steals. Macon scored a career-high 23 points in the Bishop Maginn game with 11 rebounds and six blocks.
“I went to a big-man camp at Mohonasen with Craig Forth, and that really helped. And I’ve got another year of experience,” Macon said of his growth as a player. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence.”
Schenectady will need to believe, and play well, to take down a Troy (3-1, 3-1) team that bounced back from a 67-65 overtime loss to LaSalle with wins against Bishop Maginn (79-44) and Catholic Central (78-63). Siena-bound 6-9 center Javion Ogunyemi scored 22 points against Catholic Central, while Troy’s young guard tandem of Isiah Dobere and Dyaire Holt netted 21 and 18 points, respectively.
“We need a full 32 minutes,” said Loudis. “In our first game, we were very sharp. Against Catholic Central, we had a good second half. Against Albany, we had a decent second half. We need a full four quarters.”
Loudis began to stress that point not long after Schenectady finished off Albany Tuesday evening.
“We got on the bus and coach said, ‘This game is behind us. Now it’s time to focus on Troy,’ ” said Macon. “We didn’t even have time to think about the Albany game.”
Schenectady turned in its third solid defensive effort against Albany. The Falcons managed just six third-quarter points when the Pats pulled away.
“We’ve played pretty well at the defensive end. Darius has been the anchor in back, and the other guys have fed off that,” said Loudis. “I can tell you when we play Troy, every shot will be contested.”
While Schenectady is gaining a reputation for its 3-2 zone, Troy will come at Schenectady with a load of fullcourt defensive pressure before dropping back into a mix of sets. Defensive pressure is a trademark of coach Rich Hurley, and a scheme that helped the Flying Horses log 34 wins the last two seasons, and helped Bishop Maginn capture a state title before.
“They want us to throw the ball away,” said Loudis. “Our keys to the game are to limit turnovers and win the glass. If we can get one shot and done, or no shots, we should be very successful.”
Along with Macon, senior guard Cody Shafer and junior forward Randall Symes are the only Patriots who have been through the emotion and grind that is Big 10 varsity basketball. The new cast includes Keishaun Wheelings, Clarence Stanford, Shani Moses, Marcus Pauline and Johnson Gooden-Prunty.
Wheelings and Stanford provided an offensive lift in the last two games when both juniors averaged 13.5 points.
“Troy has become a big rival. They’ve had the upper hand on us. Hurley gets his team up and ready to play,” said Loudis. “I’m eager to see how my kids react in situations. If we get down by six or eight points, will they panic? Will they have an answer? Every game is a learning experience for them.”
Troy and Schenectady were both among the honorable mention selections on the first set of Class AA basketball rankings released earlier this week by the New York State Sportswriters Association. CBA (4-0, 4-0) opened at No. 11. The Brothers host Albany tonight, and after playing at Schenectady, travel to Troy one week from tonight.