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Season review: Bobcats turn heads, going 17-8 in 2007-08

An immediate presence in the Bates lineup, Brian Ellis '11 was named the top rookie in the NESCAC for 2007-08.

The 2007-08 season was an exciting and, to some, surprisingly successful one for Bates men’s basketball, who despite fielding the youngest team in the NESCAC finished 17-8 with a 5-4 record in conference play.

The Bobcats opened their season at the Babson Invitational Tournament losing to St. Lawrence University in the first-round and the host team, Babson College, in the consolation game. In spite of the losses, senior co-captain Bryan Wholey (Marshfield, Mass.) received recognition on the all-tournament team for his solid performances. In their next game, the Bobcats lost a close one at the University of Southern Maine 62-59, which marked their last loss before running off an eight-game winning streak. The loss at USM was a tough one to swallow, but the Bobcats showed immense promise in the game, with first-year forward Brian Ellis (Braintree, Mass.) setting the pace with a game-high 17 points, accompanied by double-figure scoring and strong contributions from senior co-captain Pat Halloran (Plymouth, N.H.), sophomore forward Jimmy O’Keefe (Lexington, Mass.) and Wholey.

During the ensuing eight-game win streak, the Bobcats had key non-conference wins over NESCAC rivals Bowdoin and Colby. In their 66-65 win over Bowdoin on Dec. 1, Ellis once again led all scorers with 22 points, combined with double-digit outings from Wholey and sophomore guard Chris Wilson (Brewer, Maine). The Bobcats then went on to beat Colby in a close one, 71-69, behind strong efforts from Wholey and Wilson.

Bryan Wholey '08 drives to daylight during Bates' win over Catholic in the CUA Classic championship game. (Joe Gromelski photo)

In between these wins, Bates traveled to the nation’s capital as part of the CUA Classic at Catholic University. The Bobcats kicked off their southerly journey with a rare treat: a tour of the White House, which was arranged with the help of former Bobcat Bob Lanz '65 and the office of Senator Olympia Snowe. In attendance was the entire Bobcats roster and coaching staff, along with trainer Ricky Sirois and scorekeeper Leigh Campbell. The team continued on to visit a number of Washington's other landmarks.

The Bobcats took first place in the CUA Classic with wins over CCNY and Catholic University. Over the course of the tournament, Halloran and Wholey showed their ability to take over the team’s leadership and scoring load after the big losses of Zak Ray and Rob Stockwell, who graduated the preceding year. Wholey paced the Bobcats with 18 points over CCNY and Halloran scored a career-high 25 points in the championship game over Catholic. For their extraordinary play at the CUA Classic, Halloran earned All-Tournament Honors and Wholey took home the tournament MVP award.

The Bobcats’ win streak came to an end at the hands of this year’s NESCAC champion, Trinity College, on Jan. 18. Trinity pulled away from Bates 85-68 in the NESCAC men’s basketball opener for both teams. Brian Ellis led the Bates with a game-high 21 points, while Wholey (19 points, 9 rebounds) and sophomore Sean Wirth (Barrington, R.I.) also played quite well, despite the loss. The loss to Trinity was followed by a nail-biting loss to Amherst College, 77-76, which was ranked No. 3 nationally in Division III. During the loss, Wholey became the 28th Bates man to score 1,000 points in his career, scoring a game-high 17 points in the game. Ellis and Halloran also had strong performances. For his solid outings against Trinity an Amherst, where he averaged 19.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, Ellis was awarded Rookie of the Week Honors by the Maine Men’s Basketball Coaches and Writers Association.

Chris Wilson '10 emerged as a floor leader and a reliable scorer, averaging 11.2 points per game while leading the NESCAC in free-throwing shooting at .895.

After the tough road losses to Amherst and Trinity, Bates rebounded by winning their next six games, four of which came against strong NESCAC opponents in Tufts, Wesleyan, Connecticut College, and Williams. Over the seven-game stretch, an overtime thriller at Tufts marked perhaps one of the more memorable games of the season: Bates erased a 15-point second half deficit to win 72-68. In the game, Wholey tied his career-high for points with 28, while Chris Wilson poured in 15 and Jimmy O’Keefe notched 10 to go with a game-high 12 rebounds. Bates moved on to dismantle Wesleyan and Connecticut College at home, with solid efforts from Wholey, Wilson, Ellis, and Wirth. Bates continued its winning stretch by defeating Gordon College in a close game, 66-61, in Alumni Gym. Halloran led five Bobcats in double figures with 12 points and O’Keefe recorded another double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds).

The streak came to an end when Middlebury came to town. The Panthers, in the midst of their best season ever, shot lights-out in a 92-71 win in the home finale, the Bobcats’ only home loss of the season against eight wins.

After a non-league win at UMaine-Farmington, the Bobcats split the remainder of their CBB schedule with a 68-65 loss at Colby, followed by a 65-62 win at Bowdoin. When the dust settled on the seedings for the NESCAC Championships, both the Bates men’s and women’s basketball teams were the No. 5 seed while Bowdoin was No. 4 in both cases, effecting a men’s/women’s playoff doubleheader in Brunswick. Much as in the loss to Middlebury, in Bowdoin Bates ran into a hot-shooting team enjoying one of its best-ever seasons, and the Polar Bears ended Bates’ season in their first-round NESCAC matchup, despite their 0-2 record against Bates leading into the game.

Wholey and Ellis both attracted a slew of postseason awards. Wholey won First Team All-NESCAC and NABC Second Team All-New England honors, as well as First Team All-State and D3hoops.com Second Team All-Northeast.

Wholey finished his career in Lewiston ninth on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,246 points. Wholey was also first in the league in steals, averaging an even 2.0 per game, eighth in assists (3.9 apg) and 10th in free-throw percentage (.790), and was third on the Bobcats in rebounding (4.8 rpg).

Ellis was named NESCAC Rookie of the Year and First Team All-State for his outstanding season, in which he was second behind Wholey on the team in scoring, averaging 14.0 points per game, the sixth-highest average in the conference. He also led the Bobcats and was ninth in the NESCAC in field goal percentage (.551) and was second on the team in rebounding with 5.0 boards per game. A two-time Maine State Rookie of the Week, Ellis also led the Bobcats in three-point percentage at .462 (18-39).

Joe Reilly resigned as Bates' head coach after the season to return to his native Connecticut, taking over the reins at Wesleyan.

Head coach Joe Reilly resigned his post after the season to return to his roots and accept the head coaching job at Wesleyan University, completing the winningest coaching stint in the 74-year history of Bates men’s basketball. Connecticut is the home state of both Reilly, a graduate of Trinity College, and his wife Isabel, who have four children. Reilly’s father, the late Joseph F. Reilly, was a Hall of Fame high school coach there; his uncle Gene Reilly and his brother Luke Reilly are also well-known high school coaches in Connecticut.

“This was a difficult decision, but I believe it’s the best route for my family,” said Reilly, who has led the program since 1997. “Bates has been great to me and is a very special place. I’m blessed to have been involved with so many great student-athletes, parents, alumni and colleagues, and I’m grateful to the College for giving me a great opportunity as a 28-year-old assistant coach with no head coaching experience.”

Reilly, Bates’ 20th head men’s basketball coach, posted a 154-121 record guiding the Bobcats, including a current streak of eight consecutive winning seasons. Since 2003-04, the team has posted a 92-37 record (.713 winning percentage), and twice set program records for wins in a season, with 19 in 2004-05 and 20 in 2005-06. Eight Bobcats have reached the 1,000-point scoring plateau in Reilly’s tenure. His coaching honors include New England Basketball Hall of Fame Coach of the Year in 2003-04 and the NESCAC Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year in 2005-06.

“Everyone in the Department of Athletics and so many at the College have enjoyed Joe as a colleague and a friend,” said Bates Director of Athletics Kevin McHugh. “In my short time here, I have come to appreciate what a quality individual he is. He built a terrific program, brought competitive success to the men’s team and worked extremely hard to make a meaningful impact on the campus, the local community, and Bates alumni. We wish Joe and his family all the best in their new endeavor.”

McHugh said that the search for a new head coach will begin immediately. “I fully expect that we will secure the right person to build on the fine program and on the successes that have already been achieved.”