Royals on the rebound

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Drew Schankweiler is close to averaging a double-double for the season at 12.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Photo by Scranton athletics

By Phil Soto-Ortiz

It was a most un-Scranton-like stretch, to say the least.

Eight losses in nine games. That kind of slump is way beyond what you might expect of any halfway-decent basketball program, much less the Royals: winners of three of the last four Landmark Conference championships. Perennial NCAA Tournament team. Unanimous favorite to win their league again. Preseason Top 25 ranking.

Sure, Scranton lost John Vitkus, the two-time Landmark Conference defensive player of the year. Still, the other four starters from last year’s team that reached the NCAA Tournament had returned. This season had all the makings of a special one for the Royals.

So how is it that there they were, 10 games into the season, with an unsightly 2-8 record?

It started last winter when one of the starters set to return, Chris McCullough, suffered an injury during the NCAA Tournament loss.

Then, just before the season started, the Royals lost Matt Mancuso, a 6-7 forward with guard-like skills who was a key reserve last year, to a broken hand suffered in practice. All of a sudden, the Royals had to lean more heavily on the three healthy returning starters: guard Kevin Doolan who led the team in assists; forward Drew Schankweiler and guard Ethan Danzig, the son of coach Carl Danzig.

How did they handle that?

Ethan Danzig has helped lead Scranton back into the hunt for another Landmark title.
Photo by Scranton athletics

“Not very well,” said Carl Danzig, though with a laugh he could afford with the losing streak long past. “It took us a while to find our footing. None of them have been through this." All five of those seniors have been in three NCAA Tournaments.

The Royals started 2-2, and one of the losses was against York (Pa.), which was on its way to a 16-0 start. There was little cause for alarm. But then the losses started piling up. McCullough and Mancuso were still on the shelf Dec. 2 when the Royals were hammered, 70-44, at Juniata. Two days later it was another double-digit loss to Neumann.

Mancuso finally returned, and assumed a starting role, for Scranton’s next game against Arcadia. The Royals lost that one, and then four days later, took another ugly beating, 101-72 against TCNJ, to fall to 2-8.

That left just one game, a home date with a tough non-conference foe, Ursinus, before the holiday break.

“That’s when everything started clicking,” Danzig said. “That’s when we got our rhythm back.”

The linchpin was senior Mitch Cross, who drilled seven three-pointers off the bench and finished with 27 points as Scranton finally got its third win – and a reason to believe.

“The Ursinus game was massive for us,” Danzig said. “It’s a good team with a good coach. We really took a tongue-lashing in the TCNJ game. Everything just clicked for us versus Ursinus. That was the last game before break, and to get that win meant the world to us. We had a little more swagger coming back from Christmas break.”

They also had eight losses – seven of which were non-conference losses. Only the Juniata game counted in the league standings. Now, six weeks later, the Royals, despite a pedestrian 10-9 overall record, are alone in second place in the Landmark, trailing only Drew, whom they beat last Wednesday for the Rangers’ first loss of the conference slate.

Meanwhile Manccuso had slid very neatly into the starting role he had to wait a month longer to assume. He scored 72 points in his first five games and is second on the team in scoring average. He trails Danzig who recently became the school’s all-time leader in three-point shots made and is the current league player of the week.

Not bad for a guy who was overlooked coming out of high school. Danzig played on a team with two future Division I players: J.C. Show, now the leading scorer at Binghamton, and Evan Maxwell, who spent time on the rosters of Liberty and then Kansas. Danzig says he was also living in the shadow of his older brother Ross who was a standout for Scranton. He was not sure there was a future for him beyond his senior year of high school when, as he put it, he was a guy “who just shot jump shots.”

“If my dad hadn’t offered me a spot,” Ethan Danzig said, “I might’ve gone to school just to go to school. I’m glad I decided to play. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

So is his father.

“It’s an absolutely phenomenal experience,” Carl Danzig said, “to get to spend an extra four years with my son. Most parents get to have their kids at home through high school, and then they leave. To have him here with me, it’s like a bonus for me. It’s great to be able to share in all the accomplishments we’ve had with all the other players we’ve had here.

“Ethan’s first points his freshman year came off a pass from his older brother. That was pretty neat.”

The Royals’ nine losses is more than they’ve had in any of the past four seasons. They went 19-8 two years ago, but their resume still got them an at-large bid to the tournament when they failed to secure the automatic berth. It's likely that the Royals need to win the league tournament this time to play on into March. They are, however, not putting pressure on themselves to be perfect the rest of the way.

“I wouldn’t really say there’s pressure,” said Schankweiler. “Now we’re rolling. Now we’re really clicking. There’s the opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament, and we’re certainly capable of that. We have a great core senior group who knows how to win. That goes a long way.”

Federici has Milligan in his Sights

F&M hosts Ursinus tonight, and Brandon Federici is 11 points away from Georgio Milligan’s school record of 1,932 points as we anticipated earlier this season. At least as important, the Diplomats need to win to keep their one-game lead on the Bears for second place. Johns Hopkins is tied with Ursinus.

Lions and Falcons Lead the Way

Albright and Messiah are the alpha dogs among the MAC Commonwealth women, and, accordingly, are dominating the individual leader boards. Seven of the league’s top 12 scorers come from those two schools, including the league leader, Leah Springer. Alecia Rohrer, Maci Thornton and Kaitlyn Hoff from Messiah and Albright’s Alysha Lofton, Nina Mazzarelli and Devan Horka also are near the top.

Phil Soto-Ortiz

Phil Soto-Ortiz has been a play-by-play sportscaster for basketball, football and lacrosse at Franklin & Marshall College since 2010, and has also called games at Division II St. Anselm College in New Hampshire and at high schools around Connecticut. He writes the annual Centennial College football preview for's Kickoff publication and has covered sports for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News and several dailies and weeklies in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He graduated from Syracuse University, where he called the play-by-play of the women?s basketball team's games, including their last win over the UConn Huskies.
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