The wait is over for the return of the Bates men’s basketball team, who started their season over Thanksgiving break. The Bobcats have high expectations for the season, coming off a record-setting season last year that saw them make it to the DIII Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Through four games thus far the Bobcats are 2-2. They opened the season with consecutive victories in the Charlie Ryan Classic hosted by Thomas College in Waterville, Maine, toppling Norwich and University of Maine Fort Kent by scores of 79-49 and 86-55 respectively.

Against Norwich, Malcolm Delpeche ’17 led the way with 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 steals. Delpeche and his twin brother Marcus Delpeche ’17, who had 10 points and 2 rebounds, established themselves right away as a dominant duo. The two should have their way with anyone in the paint this season.

In the Fort Kent matchup, Marcus Delpeche led the way with a near double-double, tallying 16 points and 9 rebounds. The Bobcats also got a strong performance from senior sharpshooter Josh Britten, who was 3-5 from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points.

Following up this opening tournament, the Bobcats dropped their next two contests against University of Southern Maine and University of New England, giving up over 100 points in both games. While there is certainly room for improvement on the defensive end of the court, Bates might have ran into the wrong teams at the wrong time. Southern Maine shot 58 percent from the field and made 12 threes, while New England shot 64 percent from the field and 10 of 14 from beyond the arc.

“It was a combination of the two, but we will learn from it and rebuild,” said senior captain Mike Boornazian, who is averaging 15.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game so far this year. “It’s better to have these experiences now so that we can improve and be at our best by the time NESCAC play begins.”

In his eighth season as Bates’ head coach, Jon Furbush ’05 has been pleased with his team’s start so far. “We are scoring the ball the best in my eight years here, and it’s coming from both our starters and our bench,” he remarked. “I think we have great depth. We have also established an inside presence, which has forced defenses to collapse, leading to higher percentage shots for us.”

Another storyline for this year’s team is how point guards Jerome Darling ’17 and Shawn Strickland ’18 will fare as the replacements for Graham Safford ’15, who was the offensive leader on last year’s squad. Four games in, Furbush has been pleased with the results.

“They are doing a great job for us thus far,” Furbush said.  “As they get more comfortable I expect they’ll control the game better.”

Strickland has started all four games this season, and is averaging 11.5 points per game with a 2.3 assist to turnover ratio. Darling has been averaging 14.5 minutes off the bench, contributing 5.8 points per game and turning in the same assist to turnover ratio of 2.3.

Comparing these numbers to Safford’s production last year, the Bobcats actually have slightly improved at the point guard position. Combined from the four-game sample so far this year, Strickland and Darling are averaging 6.3 assists per game, slightly better than Safford’s 6.2 last season. This year’s duo is averaging 17.3 points per game, better than Safford’s 15.9 last year. Similarly, Safford averaged 3.6 turnovers a game, while Strickland and Darling are giving it away just 2.75 times a game.

The grueling NESCAC conference schedule has yet to begin, and we are only four games into the season, but these numbers are a good sign for this year’s team.

The Bobcats have the weekend off before resuming their non-conference schedule at home against Husson on Tuesday.