|Senior Marcos Echevarria provides Nichols with senior leadership and a bunch of points.
Nichols athletics photo
By Brian Lester
A new coach.
A new season.
Oh, and a little adversity right out of the gate that has since served as a big-time spark and rallying moment for Nichols.
In the season opener against Fitchburg last month, Nate Tenaglia knocked down a 3-pointer late in the action of an 84-75 win. As he watched the shot from the corner splash through the net, Kewan Platt threw a blatant elbow directly in the face Tenaglia out of frustration.
Platt has since been suspended and banned from the campus.
The Bison, meanwhile, put together their best start since the 1959-60 campaign, matching the 7-0 start of that team and pushing into the D3hoops.com poll at No. 25.
Senior star Marcos Echevarria called the moment one that has tightened the bond of this team.
“I think that jelled us as a team more,” Echeverria said. “Some teams take a loss at the beginning of the year that gels them, but I think that was our moment. We looked at it and said ‘alright, we’ve got come together more as a family and have each other’s backs no matter what.”
It was a pivotal moment for Scott Faucher as well. This was his first game as a head coach in college basketball and he thought his team did a great job of moving ahead.
“Our guys have that next play, next game mentality, and that was really emphasized after that happened,” Faucher said. “We had the ability to deal with some adversity and then focus on the next play. It really brought us together, too.”
For Nichols, it’s been business as usual.
The Bison is on pace for a sixth consecutive 20-win season and a third consecutive Commonwealth Coast Conference title. It’s also on track to make the NCAA tournament for the third year in a row.
That established success made Faucher’s transition to a new job a smooth one.
“We have a talented group here and it’s a lot of fun coaching these guys,” Faucher said. “We have older guys with a lot of maturity and that has made it a relatively easy transition. “These are guys who are going to compete at a high level every day and be the best team they can be.”
At the heart of it all is Echevarria, a two-time CCC Player of the Year and a member of the 2,000-point club. He reached the milestone Saturday in an 85-64 win over Endicott, scoring 22 points.
This is a player who was overlooked coming out of high school. At 5-foot-10, he didn’t draw a lot of attention from schools.
“That has definitely been motivation for me,” Echevarria said. “I wasn’t always the tallest or the strongest, but that made me work harder. I put my head down, got good grade and put in the work. To have the career I’ve had, it’s amazing. I owe it all to my teammates and coaches.”
Echevarria now gets more attention than he ever imagined.
Teams key in on him, though it hasn’t worked too well considering he’s averaging just under 20 points per game (19.9) and has drilled 26 3-pointers.
“He can generate a good look any time he has the ball in his hand, whether it’s for him or one of his teammates. He’s very unselfish,” Faucher said. “He can really shoot the ball well.”
But if Echevarria doesn’t feel as if he has a good shot, he has no problem hitting one of his teammates for one. Guys like DeAnte Bruton, Jerome Cunningham and Tenaglia are among the players who can rise to the occasion at any given moment.
“It takes a lot of pressure off me,” Echevarria said. “DiAnte is another 1,000-point scorer, Nate can go off for 20 on any given night and Jerome is a 6-8 guard in a sense. Getting everyone else involved helps me get my game into a rhythm, and when I can create opportunities for others, it makes our team better.”
Nichols hasn’t changed too much offensively because of the weapons it has. The Bison is averaging more than 90 points a game once again but has lowered its points allowed average to 71.1. A year ago, the Bison finished the year giving up 77.2 points per game.
“We have a group of guys committed to the defensive end of the floor,” Faucher said. “These guys want to be good on defense and they are buying in and communicating. It’s become a mindset for us.”
Faucher is a younger coach – he graduated from Wheaton (Mass.) in 2013 – but he has the benefit of having a father who coached college basketball. His dad, Dave, won 136 games at Dartmouth between 1991 and 2004.
“I was essentially living in a gym growing up,” Faucher said. “I learned a ton from him. He’s always been a mentor. I continue to learn from him.”
It’s working for sure, but despite the impressive start, Nichols isn’t satisfied.
“We need to work on playing that complete game. We still have some lapses here and there,” Echevarria said. “If we can get to the point where we are always playing a 40-minute game, we have the potential to win another championship and get back to the tournament.”
Faucher agrees this team has a ton of promise.
“The talent is there. It’s about us continuing to get better as a team,” Faucher said. “We have a difficult schedule ahead and we have to keep improving every day.”
No one is looking ahead, especially Echevarria, who has every intention of making the most of every opportunity he has during his final season of college basketball.
“I’m not taking a day for granted,” Echevarria said. “I’ve been saying that since the preseason. Four years goes by in the blink of an eye and I’m putting all the energy and effort I have into this season.”