When the Saint Francis and Huntington University men's basketball teams meet on Saturday afternoon in Huntington, both teams will be looking to put an underwhelming first half of the Crossroads League season behind them.
Both teams are currently mired in the middle of the pack of the competitive conference, with the Cougars in fifth with a 5-4 record and the Foresters at 3-6, good for eighth overall out of 10 teams.
Huntington's struggles can partially be explained when looking at the roster. With just a pair of seniors and the top four scorers on the team being underclassmen, it would make sense to look upon this season as a learning year for the Foresters.
But not head coach Ty Platt.
“(Junior forward and Carroll graduate) Shane Merryman has had a great season to this point and our next three leading scorers are all going to return next season, but we are focused on the here and now,” Platt said. “We want to try to make a surge yet this season. With hard work and the right kind of focus, we hope to still make some noise.”
Huntington (12-9) has been close to making that noise, but has fallen short in some big games, including a two-point defeat to Saint Francis on the road last November that kicked off the league slate.
Three other losses have come by seven points or less for the Foresters, proving that down the stretch Huntington has been close to pulling off some big wins, but has not come through for a variety of reasons.
One of those reasons has not been the 6-foot-5 Merryman, who leads the Crossroads League in scoring at 21.4 points per game. That includes shooting 84 percent (105-of-125) from the free throw line, which has long been a focus at Huntington under Ty Platt and predecessor Steve Platt, Ty's father.
He also leads the league in field goal percentage, shooting 63 percent on the season.
In order to earn some more wins, the Foresters likely need to shore up a defense that is seventh in the league, giving up 68.9 points per game.
“We aren't happy about our first half of the conference season,” Platt said. “We lost some close games and didn't do well on the road the last couple games as we have been battling sickness … Our conference is so balanced and talented that you must be ready to play your best night in and night out.”
If Huntington can come ready to play Saturday at 3 p.m. it could open the second half of Crossroads League action with a big win at home.