Colby College’s Will King (14) draws the foul as he drives to the hoop on Thomas College’s James Thomas Phelan (24) in the first half of a game Tuesday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — In the middle of the first half Tuesday night, the Colby men’s basketball team got white-hot and rolled to a 101-58 victory over Thomas in a non-conference game at the Crook Center.

The Mules (3-0) were hitting shots, making the extra pass, diving for loose balls. They managed to put together a 26-0 run in the first half and capped the game with an 18-0 run late in the second half. They were playing like a team with something to prove.

And that’s because they are.

Last season, Colby finished 12-13, including 3-7 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC). The Mules, who are only three seasons removed from a trip to the NCAA Division III tournament, played a full season last winter the coronavirus pandemic cut short the 2020-21 season.

“We definitely have a great group of seniors back, we only graduated one (player),” Colby head coach Damien Strahorn said. “Last year was a great opportunity to learn. The year didn’t finish the way we anticipated it. Coming off the COVID year certainly presented some challenges. That group had a chance for the first time, outside of Will (King) and Noah (Tyson), to get their first collegiate minutes. Hopefully, that experience helped us to understand how important the spring, summer and fall work was.”

“I give this group a ton of credit,” Strahorn continued. “They came in with a great approach to rebound from where we were a year ago. It’s a long process and a long year, but they’re working incredibly hard in practice and growing together. They’re playing (well) at both ends. We have the chance to have a really nice year.”


Colby College’s Will King (14) dishes the ball to teammate Liam O’Connell (0) as he is defended by Thomas College’s James Thomas Phelan during a game Tuesday in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Colby returns a veteran roster. Among the returnees is senior guard Noah Tyson, who led the Mules in scoring (13.3 points per game) and rebounds (7.3 per game) last season. Forward Jack Lawson averaged 10.9 points per game last year as a freshman. Senior guard Will King averaged 9.9 points per game last year.

“We move the ball (on offense), we play fun, we play fast,” Tyson said. “It’s a lot of fun to be a part of, but I think we’re also hard to guard. I think we showed that (Tuesday night).”

Senior guard Cooper Wirkala, an Oceanside High School graduate, played 20 games for the Mules last season, mostly off the bench. On Tuesday night, Wirkala had a career game, scoring 35 points, hitting 10 3-pointers in the process. Wirkala scored 23 points in the first half alone, just eight points from breaking a program record set by Matt Hancock, who scored 30 points in the first half of a game against Tufts in 1988.

“Last year was such a learning experience for all of us,” Wirkala said. “We kind of thought we’d go out there and kind of win every game. This year, I think we’re kind of turning a corner. With it being my last year, I’m hoping we just go on a run and have a great season.”

Colby is already getting production from freshman guard Max Poulton, who has averaged 14 points per game through the first three contests, including 21 points in a 99-95 overtime win over Saint Joseph’s College in the season opener Nov. 11.

Colby will have plenty of competition within the NESCAC. Aside from the usual Maine rivals, Bates and Bowdoin, Wesleyan (9-1) finished with the best conference record last season, followed by Tufts (8-2) and Middlebury (7-3).

“I just think we’re battle-tested this year,” Tyson said. “Obviously, a lot of ups and downs last year, especially coming off my sophomore year and into my junior year. I think we had pretty high expectations (last year). Through that, I think we learned how to lose some games and also how to win some games. This year, I think we’re finding out early that there’s no days off, we can’t take anybody for granted. If we come out here and play the game we’re supposed to play, kind of handle business on our end, we feel pretty confident it will take care of itself and it’ll work out for us.”

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