The Muhlenberg men’s basketball team was off to the best start in Centennial Conference play in school history when an unfortunate injury spoiled a run at a conference title.
The Mules were 6-1 and alone in first place in the CC when senior captain Peter Barnes was lost to a season-ending injury. Even without their all-conference center they hung tough, finishing 10-8 in the league and 13-14 overall to claim a playoff berth for the second straight year. Muhlenberg won its opening-round playoff game on the road before succumbing to eventual CC champion Franklin & Marshall, which would go on to the “Elite Eight” in the NCAA Tournament.
Just as they were a year earlier, rebounding and defense were the hallmarks of the Mules’ game. They finished sixth in Division III in rebounding margin (plus-8.7) and 19th in field-goal percentage defense (.392). They also ranked in the top 50 in blocked shots per game (4.0).
The Mule seniors, from left to right: Brian Frankoski, Obi Nwizugbo, Ryan Foster and Peter Barnes.
In the season-opening Scotty Wood Tournament Muhlenberg had the unenviable task of facing Oneonta State, a team that would reach the NCAA Tournament. The Mules lost to the Red Dragons but responded by beating local rival Moravian, 66-52, in the consolation.
Two more non-conference losses dropped Muhlenberg to 1-3, but once CC games started it went on a tear. The Mules won four straight and six out of seven to jump out to a 5-0 start in the conference, their best ever. Several memorable moments over that stretch included junior Evan Tozer draining a three-pointer with 1:23 left to sink Dickinson by three; senior Brian Frankoski hitting the game-winning jumper with 1:53 to go to beat Johns Hopkins in overtime; and the Mules setting a school record by holding McDaniel to just 10 second-half points in a 67-40 victory.
Barnes finished his career with 116 blocks, the fifth most in Muhlenberg history.
Muhlenberg responded to a 22-point loss to F&M with a big 76-71 win at Gettysburg, also a contender for the conference crown. But it proved to be a pyrrhic victory, as Barnes suffered his devastating injury during the game.
The Mules lost two straight and three out of four after that, but began to right the ship with three straight wins. The middle of those wins was decided by a banked-in triple in overtime from senior Ryan Foster, which lifted Muhlenberg to a 73-68 defeat of McDaniel, and the last featured a near 20/20 game, as sophomore Spencer Liddic scored 24 points and pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds.
Things turned sour after that winning streak, as the Mules dropped their final five regular-season games, including an 89-83 overtime loss at Ursinus that decided who would get home court when the teams met four days later in playoffs.
Despite having to travel to Collegeville for the first-round game, having lost five straight and having already been beaten by Ursinus twice during the regular season, Muhlenberg dug deep for one more big win. The Mules never trailed and led by double digits the entire second half in an 84-69 win over the Bears. But they could not accomplish the same feat against F&M in the second round, as their season came to an end with their third loss of the year against the Diplomats.
Liddic built on his impressive rookie campaign in a big way and emerged as the Mules’ top all-around player. He led the team with averages of 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game and led the CC in rebounding and double-doubles (13). Liddic also ranked in the top 10 in the league in scoring, field-goal percentage (.497) and blocked shots per game (1.30) and finished 20th in Division III in rebounding. He was a unanimous first-team All-CC selection and was also named to the D3hoops.com All-Mid-Atlantic Region third team and the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District II second team.
Barnes was well on his way to a second-straight all-conference selection when he went down. In 13 games he averaged 11.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. He led the Mules by shooting .574 from the field and recorded six double-doubles.
Foster ended his career second all-time at Muhlenberg with 155 three-pointers and just 11 points shy of 1,000.
The three other seniors were all major contributors as well. Foster received All-CC honorable mention for the second straight season after averaging 11.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game and finishing sixth in the conference in three-pointers made per game (1.63).
Frankoski and Obi Nwizugbo both unselfishly agreed to come off the bench after the Mules’ slow start and helped jumpstart the team’s turnaround. Frankoski averaged 7.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, tied for the team lead with 21 steals and dished out 66 assists, second on the team. Nwizugbo netted 6.9 points and pulled down 3.3 boards per game.
Tozer combined with Foster to form a potent 1-2 three-point shooting punch. He led the team and was fifth in the CC in threes made per game (1.67), and in total he averaged 8.0 points per contest.
Freshman Matt O’Hara and sophomore Justin Greenstone shared the point guard duties and started 23 and 11 games respectively. O’Hara led the team with 68 assists, 21 steals and a 1.33 assist-to-turnover ratio, and Greenstone doled out 51 assists.
Freshmen Rob Berish (4.4 points per game) and Hunter Forsman, sophomores Jake Ramsay and David Gwyn and junior Kevin O’Hara all contributed as reserves.