By: Ryan Tse
A glance at the score for McMaster’s Nov. 24 matchup against the Brock Badgers shows a 96-87 loss, a familiar result for a struggling team that owns a 1-7 record so far this season. It was yet another close loss, albeit to a strong undefeated Brock side.
A closer look at the box score reveals another familiar result: point guard David McCulloch again led the team with 35 minutes played out of a possible 40 minutes. The fourth-year veteran was effective too. He tallied 26 points, the most for any player on either team. Still, he was unsurprisingly disappointed in the final result.
“We played tough in a lot of games, but it hasn’t been enough,” McCulloch said. “We need to get to the next step. We need to get to that extra gear.”
McCulloch is one of the bright spots in a tough year for the men’s basketball team. He leads the team in minutes played and is second in points per game.
After attending high school in Hamilton, McCulloch was recruited to McMaster and has steadily improved each year. He has gone from averaging 13 minutes and three points a game in his freshman season to now averaging 31 minutes and 19 points in his fourth year.
As one of only two seniors on the team, McCulloch knows that he has a responsibility to take charge of the team and be a leader on and off the court. His dependable play has earned him the respect of his teammates in the past, but this year, he has been challenged by coach Patrick Tatham to be more vocal. He admits this has been a challenge in times, given his quiet, lead-by-example persona.
“I still have a long ways to go,” said McCulloch. “PT [coach Tatham] is always telling me I need to be more vocal. The way I’ve led in the past has always been by example, by trying to be the hardest worker and trying to do all that stuff. Now, it’s about taking the next step and being vocal as a leader.”
“I’m always on Dave to be more vocal,” added Tatham. “I don’t want to be the loudest individual in the room. I think if the loudest person is him, then the guys will buy in that much more because he’s an extension of me. If he’s in, then all the guys are in.”
The evolution of McCulloch’s play is apparent on the court as well. Under Tatham’s new “run and gun” system, the point guard, typically a pass-first player, has been asked to shoot more. So far, so good — McCulloch’s averaged almost 16 field goal attempts per game compared to just 11 last year. He’s also taken more three-point attempts per game, up from four attempts last year to seven this year, and has a higher three-point percentage as well.
McCulloch also attributes his new shoot-first mentality to the confidence that he has gained over his career.
“I have been playing the university game for three or four years, so I can make better decisions,” said McCulloch. “But I am also more confident taking more risks and doing things more out of the box.”
In McCulloch, Tatham sees a talented player who can dominate if he is pushed to play more aggressively.
“He’s absolutely a borderline all-Canadian player,” said Tatham. “We are just going continue to push him and hopefully get him to play out of his comfort zone where he has been the past three years, which is more of a facilitator trying to control the game rather than take over the game.”
The higher-pace style that McCulloch has played has been representative of the whole team, something that is apparent to McCulloch when comparing the past couple of years to this season.
“The past couple of years, we have had really good big men that we can throw the ball in,” explained McCulloch. “It was a slow offence, and we could get some post touches or inside finishes more. This year, we are more of a guard-oriented team. We are pushing the tempo, running and shooting, which fits our team a lot more than in years past.”
Despite his own success, McCulloch is obviously frustrated by the team’s lack of success. He thinks the talent is there, but the team needs to be more consistent.
“Right now, it’s just consistency,” said McCulloch. “We will have good quarters, and we will have horrendous quarters. We have not been shooting the ball as well as we can. We have lost a couple games by six or eight, so if we hit a couple more threes, it’s a different game. It’s about getting through 40 minutes instead of three quarters or just a half.”
McCulloch still likes the potential of the team though. When asked about their new additions, he pointed out the stellar play of Miles Seward and Kareem Collins in particular.
“Miles is scoring the ball,” said McCulloch. “He can score the ball whenever he wants. He’s super confident and really exciting, and he gets our team amped up. Kareem Collins is another guy who has helped our team a lot. He is a super good defender and he can get to the rim whenever he wants. He’s another guy who fits the system perfectly. He’s athletic so he can run the floor.”
Heading into the second half of the season, McCulloch remains optimistic about the team and loves the camraderie.
“It’s good and we’re fun,” McCulloch said. “I love the guys on the team. We play really fast and everyone works really hard. Everyone’s really confident and it is just a fun team. PT’s trying to change the culture a lot: be as hardworking as possible, lift up your teammates and just have fun.”
“Obviously, we’re struggling, but things will change,” McCulloch added. “It’s a new team, a bunch of new players, so the cohesion is not quite there yet. If I had to guess, I think we’ll be really good.”
There still remains a lot of season to be played as the Marauders head into December. However, it is already clear that if the team can turn the season around, McCulloch will be a huge part of it.