Under a brand-new men's basketball coaching staff, Presbyterian College showed promise in the early stages of the season. New head coach Dustin Kerns was opening his locker room to kids after wins, and the team stood on the Templeton Center court, win or lose, and sang the alma mater as the patrons filed out.
A slow start was understandable. The Blue Hose played Tennessee, North Carolina State, Charlotte and Virginia Tech early in the season.
Then they won five straight games and were 8-7 on Jan. 3 after a Big South road victory at Longwood. The Blue Hose had won back-to-back home games on buzzer beaters against UNC-Greensboro and North Carolina A&T. At the time, it looked as if Presbyterian, which had gone 5-25, 1-17 in conference, in the last of Gregg Nibert's 28 years as head coach, would be highly competitive in the Big South this year.
"That's what I thought," Kerns said. "I thought we'd be mid-pack, if not better, in the league. Gregg (Nibert) did some great things in his career, but, when I got here, these kids' mindsets had been shaped by a lot of losses. I think we had gotten a trained mindset out of them. The recent past would creep in when we got in a close game. We got over that, and now we're having to do it again."
The team has little depth. Junior Francois Lewis, who was averaging 12.4 points a game leading the team in rebounds, was declared academically ineligible in January. Jo'Vontae Milner suffered a season-ending thumb injury. Montenia Nelson suffered a medical issue that will keep him off the court until May. Before he knew that Lewis would be lost, Kerns decided to redshirt Ben Drake, who tried to come back too soon from a broken foot he suffered last summer in a pickup game.
Going into Saturday afternoon's home game against Charleston Southern, Presbyterian is 10-16 overall, 3-10 in the Big South. It's still an improvement. The Blue Hose have won two of their last five games after dropping six straight.
On Wednesday night at Winthrop, PC started fast in both halves but, worn down by lack of depth, fell, 63-49.
"Sometimes it's just really hard to get in a rhythm offensively," Kerns said. "We defended very well, held (Winthrop) to 63 points, but we exhaust ourselves offensively.
"Now, I think, with so many guys, nearly a third of our team, out, we're fighting to be competitive. (At Winthrop) it was 47-42 with seven minutes. It's tough, especially with the depth we've lost, but we're taking steps in the right direction. We're competing and we're fighting."