After securing their first win of the year against Bob Jones University two days into the season, the Eagles (5-5, 2-0 Appalachian Athletic Conference) found themselves on a four-game losing streak that spanned over two weeks, with three of their four losses coming by four points or less.
Entering their first AAC game Nov. 28 at Point University, then the No. 25 team in the NAIA rankings, Reinhardt seemed destined to fall to 1-6.
But the Eagles instead scored a surprise 87-85 victory that marked the beginning of another four-game streak, this time a streak of wins.
Now 5-5 with the only unbeaten conference record in AAC play, Reinhardt seems to be showing the promise that was expected of it at the beginning of the season.
When asked why he felt his team had struggled to pick up wins early in the season, first-year coach Jason Gillespie listed a number of factors, the first of which was its schedule.
“We inherited a very tough schedule, and we knew that,” Gillespie said of the schedule set by his predecessor, Jeffrey Pourchier. “You like to challenge your teams early to see where they are at. It helps you to prepare for the conference season. It was a good thing.”
As the season got under way, Reinhardt quickly found itself matched up against the likes of NCAA Division I Jacksonville State and NCAA Division II Shorter.
With the wins slow to come, Gillespie said he worried that some of his players would become disheartened with the results and begin to give up before their conference schedule even began.
“As a coach in your first year at a school, you are always worried about whether the guys are going to buy into your system or not,” Gillespie said. “When you have new guys in a new system, it’s a learning process.”
But Gillespie’s worries were soon laid to rest as the Eagles pulled it together to win four games in a row.
“Our guys were resilient,” he said. “They stayed steadfast with what we’re trying to do and didn’t let our early struggles affect us too negatively.”
During their winning streak, Reinhardt have averaged 92.3 points a game — more than 10 points up from the 81-point average it held in its first six games.
The Eagles’ leading scorer, junior guard Quinton Wood, feels that the team’s growing chemistry is translating to success on the court.
“Everyone is buying into what coach (Gillespie) is wanting us to do,” said Wood, who is averaging 18.5 points a game. “Players are starting to move the ball around, and the chemistry is starting to come. We didn’t have much trust in each other at first, and it was frustrating, but now I think everybody is starting to believe in each other.”
Reinhardt will have a chance to go above .500 for the first time this season and avenge an earlier loss when it hosts Southern Poly — Pourchier’s new team — on Wednesday.
Though Gillespie wants to pick up the victory, his primary concern is seeing the Eagles continue to improve.
“It’s important to win to get some momentum over Christmas break, but we just need to keep getting better,” Gillespie said. “Win or lose, we just need to keep building in the right direction.”