After opening the season with five consecutive losses, the Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team has won three of its past five games, including Saturday’s 70-58 victory over Loyola.
The surprising part is that the positive results have occurred without two starters.
Senior center Kristijan Krajina has missed the last three games and will sit out the remainder of the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Freshman shooting guard Byron Ashe has not played in the past two games after suffering a concussion during practice.
While losing two starters would be considered devastating to many teams, coach Jamion Christian said the absences have actually helped the Mountaineers (3-7).
“I think part of it has been our team growing together,” he said Wednesday morning. “We have had some injuries. In those five games, we lost our starting center and we had our starting 2-guard sit out a couple games with a concussion. So I think winning three of our last five games shows our resiliency as a group. When adversity hits our group, we really have a tendency to respond well together. It hasn’t been an easy road for us from the travel at the beginning of the year to the injuries, but the good thing is that with each game and with each day at practice, you can see their improvement, you can see their fight, and the team is growing close together.”
The 6-foot-10, 245-pound Krajina, who ranked fourth on the team in points per game (5.7) and third in rebounds per game (4.3) in seven starts, has been replaced by sophomores Taylor Danaher and Greg Graves. The 7-foot, 210-pound Danaher has averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds in two starts, and the 6-7, 220-pound Graves has averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds over the same span.
“Losing Kristijan Krajina is going to allow Taylor Danaher, our sophomore 7-footer, an opportunity to play more often, and I think that’s a great thing,” Christian said. “In the two games that he’s started, he’s really played well. … He’s a talented player. I always felt like we had two of the best bigs in the league in Kristijan and Taylor. So now it’s going to be Taylor Danaher starting at the 5 and a young sophomore named Greg Graves is going to get an opportunity as well to play some 5 and some 4. Both of those guys played great against Loyola, and they give us a lot of hope. They’re both more agile, they get up and down the floor every well. Where Kristijan Krajina was our primary low-post threat and a guy that we could throw the ball to on the blocks, Greg and Taylor are guys that can affect the game in a lot of different ways.”
Mount St. Mary’s does not return to the court until Dec. 22 for a game at Penn State. Christian is hopeful that the break will be long enough for the 6-0, 155-pound Ashe, who has averaged 4.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in five starts, to recover.
“Hopefully, he’ll be back against Penn State, but we don’t know,” Christian said. “Concussions are really tricky because you can go three days with no symptoms and then one symptom sets your clock all the way back. It hasn’t been an easy road, but the road to being one of the best teams in the league is usually not an easy road, and you’ve got to learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations in order to be there at the end.”