On March 7, the Pfeiffer University men’s basketball team capped off an 11-2 season in memorable fashion, defeating Averett University 72-70 to capture the USA South East Division Championship. The win, achieved despite Averett cutting into several Pfeiffer leads, came down to the Falcons’ Dorian Miles and Tyjarek Simmons hitting clutch free throws at the end of the game.
Pete Schoch, the head men’s basketball coach at Pfeiffer since 2018, refused to take much credit for the victory. And he did have reason to feel confident enough about his team’s prospects to hold off on the typical animated coaching one often expects to see in playoff games. During the regular season, his players inspired him to become less of a coach and more of a lead collaborator who encouraged and embraced input from his players. This meant, for example, that he could go with his players’ strategy at halftime if he felt it was better than his own, knowing that they had often hashed out the needed adjustments among themselves even before arriving in the locker room. Or, he could get behind some of their ideas for tweaking a play or for defending elements of an opposing team’s offense.
“You could really do whatever you wanted to out there, as long as you played hard on defense,” said Diez Mungro, a guard from Latta, S.C.
The Falcons soared on the court this season because of some exceptionally fine talent. Freshman center Miles, of Greenville, S.C., gave the team a strong game inside the paint. Miles had been highly recruited. He said he chose Pfeiffer because the school “felt like a place that really wanted me to be here.”
Miles, Mungro and Jamaal David, a guard from Clinton, Md., were named to the USA South All-Conference East Division team. David missed several games at the end of the season because of an injury, but still offered advice and encouragement from the sidelines.
David and Mungro were among nine seniors who pulled everyone on the team together with one common goal.
“They had the kind of experience that could help them win several close games this year, games they might have lost last season,” Schoch said. “They really wanted to win something and were able to play that way. They had a mature outlook; they never got too high, and they never got too low.”
Mungro echoed these sentiments, lauding his team’s chemistry. “If one of us saw something that the other players didn’t see, he was able to communicate that,” he said.
The Falcons began to jell as a championship-contending team at their lowest moment, namely when Schoch came down with COVID in mid-January. This caused a two-week delay to the start of the season as players quarantined in an isolated area of a dorm on campus. It also increased the number of weeks that Pfeiffer went without competing against other teams, albeit in scrimmages and exhibition games, as these were cancelled because of COVID outbreaks as well.
In the end, Pfeiffer’s men’s basketball team played its first game on Feb. 5, two days after the quarantine ended. (All of Pfeiffer’s sports programs resumed at the start of the current spring semester, having been put on hold since last spring because of the pandemic.)
As Pfeiffer’s basketball players whiled away day after day in quarantine, they did a lot more than attend and prepare for Zoom presentations of classes. They ate together, they played video games together, and they talked basketball. They developed a chip on their collective shoulder as they recalled that coaches of USA South teams had predicted Pfeiffer would finish fourth in the conference’s East Division.
They also watched plenty of hoops on television. And, thanks to the miracle of streaming, they even scouted the strengths and weaknesses of other conference teams as they watched them play on their laptops and smartphones.
Schoch’s sickness “was devastating,” David said. “But, everything happens for a reason. It definitely brought us together closer as a team. It made us hungrier to get back on the court and just win. That’s what we did.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.