Comeback season: SMC men’s basketball jumps in NE10 Polls

For the first time in decades, SMC men’s basketball has a shot at the NCAA tournament

By Shannon Jordan | Staff Writer |

St. MichgaelsBasketball picture
Darrel Yepdo, “26, goes up for a dunk during a home game against Wilmington (DE).

The St. Michael’s Men’s Basketball team is ranked first in the Northeast-10 conference with an overall record of 16-5, and an in-conference record of 12-3. For the first time in nine years, the Purple Knights have a shot at a winning record and are seeking their first conference regular-season or tournament title since 2000-01.

     At the beginning of the season, the team was ranked last in the NE10 preseason coaches poll. The coaches poll happens at the beginning of the season, where NE10 teams are ranked by the coaches. Frustrations fueled the team. 

     “It felt like the stigma was to put St. Michael’s Men’s Basketball last because we have not won for a couple of years,” said Darrel Yepdo, ’26, one of the leading scorers on the team. “We are breaking that stigma every single day,” Yepdo said. 

     He said the team uses this to motivate them for practice every day. “We have this year’s coaches poll taped to all of our lockers to see where we are ‘supposed to be ranked,’” Yepdo said.

     Eric Eaton, St. Michael’s men’s basketball head coach said a key difference in their season this year versus past years is experience. “The guys have more seasons under their belts,” Eaton said. The team returned most of their players from last year and also added a few first-years allowing them to better understand each other and their goals.

     Eaton has been the head coach for five seasons now and has changed his approach to coaching over the years. “I have learned to trust the guys and really just let them be themselves, much more than I did early when I first got here,” Eaton said.

     The success of the team is due to the resiliency of the group, Eaton said. “Whether we have a bad half or possession or things don’t go well for us for some period of time, that they have a calmness about them that they will figure out what they need to do to adjust,” Eaton said.

  St. Michael’s has many players  contributing to their winning season. CJ Crews, ’25, a is a key to the team’s success, after scoring 27 points in their game against Southern New Hampshire University on Jan. 30. Crews said the team motivates each other in a variety of different ways. “Whenever someone is down or makes a mistake, we have each other’s back regardless of how the game is going,” Crews said.  

     For Crews, after coming off of an injury and missing the first semester of basketball this year was tough. However, he took this as an opportunity to develop a new perspective. “[I] just used it as motivation and still supported my teammates throughout the process,” Crews said.

     The group’s camaraderie also has helped bring them to the next level this season. “We have great chemistry as a team. We all trust each other and believe in each other’s abilities,” said Crews.

     Yepdo has been instrumental in helping the Purple Knights excel this season. He has earned the NE10 weekly honor roll five times this season, and is the second leading scorer avering 16.8 points per game. Yepdo also averages 2.1 steals per game which is also the highest average on the team. 

     Yepdo hopes to be able to look back on the season with pride. “[I want to] say that I gave everything I had as a leader of this team, whether it was vocally or physically,” Yepdo said.

     In their game on Saturday against Pace University, Romar Reid, ’24, led the team in points with 32. Crews contributed 16 points and Yepdo contributed 12. In the second half, the Purple Knights were down 74-76 until Nolan Marold, ’26 made a layup to tie up the game and send them into overtime. The Purple Knights sealed the win 83-82 when Yepdo made his final two foul shots.

Head coach Eric Eaton talks with his players about strategy. PHOTO BY ALEX WEISS

     When it comes to practicing, Eaton said it is all about the team’s energy and consistency in order to produce the results that they want. “If they are consistent with their effort and their energy, and working on their game, the results are probably going to take care of themselves,” Eaton said.

     Caitlin O’Connor, ’24, has been going to the basketball games since she was a first-year. She notes the drastic change she has seen in the team. “They all seem to be enjoying themselves more on the court,” O’Connor said. 

     Now that news of the men’s basketball team’s success has traveled around the community the support has been through the roof. “The atmosphere at games has been awesome, the bleachers are almost completely full,” O’Connor said.