Men’s basketball struggles in conference play

By Jordan Atkins

The Lawrence University (Vikings) Men’s Basketball team has struggled in recent weeks as it works through the meat of its Midwest Conference schedule.

The Vikes won four out of five games over last winter break, including a 2-0 record at the Puerto Rico Classic, but have been unable to translate their prior success into wins since the start of Winter Term. The Vikings currently hold an overall record of 5-9 while going 2-7 in conference play. In seven of the nine losses, Lawrence had the lead in the second half, but was unable to finish. The Vikes’ inability to close out games currently leaves them ninth in the conference standings. They are four games back out of fourth place with nine games to play. The team would need a winning streak and some luck in order to qualify for the conference tournament. Regardless, the Vikings can be expected to remain competitive with every team they face for the remainder of the season.

The biggest bright spot for Lawrence has been the play of senior point guard Jamie Nikitas. Nikitas leads the conference and is fourth in the nation in scoring average at 27.7 points per game, while playing nearly every minute of every game. As the heart and soul of the Vikings offense, Nikitas has led the team in scoring in each game this season, never scoring less than 17 points in a game. At just 6’0” tall, the Glenview, Ill. native is the team’s best rebounder and sixth best in the conference. Additionally, Nikitas is first in the conference in steals, and despite accounting for nearly 40% of the team’s scoring, has still managed to record 3.4 assists per game, good for eighth in the league. Nikitas has been awarded Midwest Conference Performer of the Week twice already this year and is the heavy favorite to be the league’s Player of the Year. The last Viking to win this award was Ryan Kroeger ‘09 in 2009.

“Without a doubt I would trade any of those accolades, anything like that, or scoring whatever I’m scoring per game for wins,” said Nikitas of his impressive collection of accomplishments so far this season. The decorated Lawrentian still appreciates the honors he has received, stating, “It’s nice to have something to hang my hat on and have my individual performance be recognized.”

In recent weeks, Lawrence has been without junior guard Peter Winslow who has been sidelined with a partially torn oblique as well as hip soreness. This diminishes the team’s already limited depth and size. Winslow’s teammates miss his presence on the floor. “Peter is obviously a key player for us,” said Nikitas. “He really plays hard [and] with a lot of heart. It’s difficult to have him on the bench.”

The team hopes that Winslow can return before the season ends. With only ten players suiting up each game, the Vikes cannot afford any injuries for the rest of the season and must avoid foul trouble during their games.

As the season continues, the team is aiming to make the most of its remaining games and enjoy the ride, hoping that a looser approach will lead to victories in the final month of play. “It’s been a great group of guys,” said Nikitas.

Lawrence’s next test is a home matchup with Knox College on Jan. 23.