After an uncharacteristic 9-14 season a year ago, the Washington College men's basketball team is trying to turn things around this season.

A pair of South Carroll grads, sophomore Geoff Rupert and junior Dan Dutton, are quietly helping the Shoremen get back on top of theMiddle Atlantic Conference Southeast Section.

Last year's rebuilding effort snapped a streak of 10 winning seasons, which included eight MAC playoff appearances.

This season, the Shoremen are coming off a successful trip to the Bahamas -- where they finished third in the Goombay Shootout -- and are looking to challenge for the conference title.

The team was 5-4 heading into lastnight's conference opener against Widener University of Pennsylvania, though the tournament games were not included in that mark.

"We're predicted to win the conference this season but it won't be easy,"Rupert said. "Winning the MAC is a goal of ours, and I'd also like to see us head back to the (NCAA Division III) Tournament."

Last year, the 6-foot-3 Rupert was one of two freshman to start for head coach Tom Finnegan's Shoremen, splitting time between No. 3 guard -- a cross between a shooting guard and small forward -- and point.

"Geoff broke into the starting lineup nine or 10 games into the season his freshman year," Finnegan said.

"He's done a nice job getting us rebounds and handling the ball offensively. This year, he's improved his overall game and is a big asset to our program."

After a slow start, Rupert got on track in the Bahamas, scoring a season-high 17 points in a win against Siena Heights College of Michigan.

"I was struggling a bit in the beginning of the year but played well in the Bahamas. It was fun and gave us a chance to relax and play basketball," he said.

Finnegan expects many more double-digit games from the 19-year-old sophomore.

"I think down the road Geoff has the ability to be a solid all-around college player scoring in double figures, in the 15- to 17- point range, and adding five or six assists," Finnegan said. "He can score in a variety of ways, and the range on his shot has improved.

"If he continues to work hard, he should get evenbetter."

Dutton also has come on strong of late. After battling academic problems a year ago and an ankle injury early this season, the 6-7 forward-center is Finnegan's first substitute up front.

"Danny's made a lot of progress coming off a bad sprained-ankle injury that had him on crutches the first three weeks of the season. Basketball-wise, he's just getting back in shape and is getting more and more playing time," Finnegan said.

"His strength is rebounding, and he has the ability to score some points inside for us. He's a big, strong guy who could dominate inside. We're trying to get him to be a little more aggressive, and he's ready to do it."

While Finnegan sees him eventually gaining a starting spot, Dutton is content with his role coming off the bench.

"Right now, I'd rather come off the bench," he said. "It gives me a chance to watch the flow of the game and see what's going on.

"My rebounding and defense are my strengths right now, but as my playing time increases, I'll look for my shot a little more. It will all come with time."

Dutton's biggest comeback this year has been in the classroom. After being on academic suspension last spring, the 20-year-old psychology major rebounded with a solid 3.0 grade-point average effort this fall.

"I got my goals straightened out, and I'm concentrating more on my grades now. It's reallyhelping me out with basketball too."

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