WATERVILLE — Alex Dorion had mixed feelings when Colby College men’s basketball coach Damien Strahorn began recruiting him out of Needham High School in Massachusetts. His father, Tom, was among the best players in Colby history, scoring 1,167 points for the Mules from 1987 to 1991. Alex had little interest in standing in that shadow.

Tom Dorion eased his son’s concerns.

“I didn’t want to come here, just having that history behind me. He was like, don’t worry about any of that. See if you like it and if you’ll enjoy the school,” Alex Dorion said before Wednesday’s practice.

“On my visit, I didn’t really think of any of that stuff. I really clicked with the guys, clicked with the coaches, and decided this could be a good place for me.”

Dorion was right. Now a senior, he is a key player for the Mules and a big reason why Colby is still playing in March. This has been the best season in a generation for the Colby men’s basketball team. At 24-3, the Mules will play in their first NCAA Division III tournament game since 1997 when they take on Christopher Newport (21-6) at 4 p.m. Friday in Hoboken, New Jersey.

In his ninth season as Colby’s coach, Strahorn said this year’s team has displayed the kind of offense he’s been trying to build. Anyone on the court is a threat to score, and anyone has the green light to put up a 3-pointer.

“Put pressure on defense. Transition, get up and down the court. Use the 3-point line to force people to come out and guard us. Hopefully that allows us to create some breakdowns, and no matter what teams want to do, we should be able to play out of that,” Strahorn said.

“The 3-point shot has obviously become a huge thing in basketball. We’re using it as much as anybody.”

The Mules are among the national leaders in scoring (12th, at 88.6 points per game), 3-point attempts (third, with 969), 3s made per game (third, at 13.5), and total 3s made (third, with 365). For most of the season, the Mules were in the top 10 in 3-point shooting percentage, but injuries to leading scorer Sam Jefferson (ankle) and Dorion (shoulder) dropped Colby to 43rd, at 37.7 percent.

Despite missing four games to end the regular season and playing little in the first two rounds of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, Jefferson still leads Division III in 3-point shooting percentage, making 49.7 percent of his shots.

“(Jefferson was) probably going to be the (NESCAC) player of the year if he didn’t get hurt,” said junior guard Matt Hanna, another of Colby’s sharpshooters. “We obviously like to shoot the ball. We like to play fast. A big thing for us is, we don’t want to just run and gun, take stupid 3s, quick 3s, early in the shot clock. We want to work through our actions and get the good ones, because at any time we can shoot from deep. That’s not always the best shot in our offense. We take what the defense gives us.”

Before his injury in a 78-74 win over Hamilton on Feb. 7, Jefferson was having what Strahorn considers a historic shooting season, making 60 percent of his field goals, 50 percent of his 3-point tries, and one made free throw shy of 90 percent at the line. At is stands, Jefferson is still 60.4 from the field, 49.7 from 3, and 87.5 at the line.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a 60-50-90 guy,” Strahorn said.

Many teams would not overcome the loss of their best player, or even that player at less than 100 percent. This season, the Mules have had seven different high scorers, and seven players have scored at least 20 points in a game. Colby has five players averaging at least 11 points, and freshman guard and NESCAC Rookie of the Year Will King is not far off that pace at 9.5 points.

“The key is everyone on the floor can score. It’s really those times you get lackadaisical, and all of a sudden we’re coming at you from all five angles,” said Dorion, who averages 13.6 points and has a team-high 87 3-pointers. “In any game, anyone can go off. It feels good that if you have an off night, anyone can really have your back.”

Everything the Mules do offensively is predicated on playing fast. Get up the court, make quick, crisp passes, move without the ball. It’s a lot for even the best defenses to process.

“A big thing for us is we want to keep the ball moving. If we’re just standing around, one person dribbling, it’s easy for the defense just to sit there and key in. Just keep the defense moving, and someone is going to get open. It’s going to be somebody different every night. We have four or five guys who can score 20, 25 plus. That’s something we’ve all bought into this year,” Hanna said.

This is the offense Strahorn has been building, piece by piece, since he became Colby’s coach. A 2002 Colby graduate, Strahorn averaged just under 23 points as a senior, earning all-NESCAC and all-New England honors. He played at a fast tempo, and went to work recruiting players who fit that vision. Two players in Strahorn’s first recruiting class exemplified what he was looking for – Patrick Stewart, a 6-foot-6 forward from Bangor who was among the top 3-point shooters in the nation as a senior; and 6-7 Chris Hudnut, a more traditional center who played well with his back to the basket but also could play on the perimeter. That was the versatility Strahorn wanted. In Colby’s offense, size is barely a factor when looking for talent.

In the starting lineup the Mules have used the most this season, King is usually the tallest player at 6-5. Noah Tyson, a 6-3 guard and the 2019 NESCAC Rookie of the Year, is Colby’s leading rebounder, averaging 8.7. Jefferson is 6-4, Dorion is 6-2, and Hanna is 5-9. Dean Weiner, a 6-7 senior forward, is typically Colby’s first player off the bench and is as close to a traditional post player as the Mules have. Even Weiner will take a 3 if he has an open shot.

“There just aren’t a lot of bigs out there that fit not only how we want to play, but also have grades and can get in (to Colby). We made the decision to, in some respects, downsize,” Strahorn said. “Let’s be a little less concerned with how tall someone is and let’s try to find guys that, one, have a good basketball IQ, and two, have a good skill set, especially being able to shoot, and shoot from behind the arc. Combine that with a playoff core of vets and the ability to pass and move the ball. It began to take place with this year’s senior class.”

Strahorn knows the Mules go into almost every game with a size disadvantage. Opponents average 1.3 more rebounds per game. He also knows by making twice as many 3-pointers as the opponent, the Mules can mitigate any size disadvantage. In an average game, 52 percent of Colby’s shots are 3-pointers.

“The two questions you have to ask yourself when you start to get smaller (that) you’ll have to be able to answer are, one, how are you going to rebound the ball, especially defensively, and how do you guard big guys?” Strahorn said. “The sheer reality is there’s just not that many great big guys left. This past weekend was a pretty good example. You had Tufts, we’re facing one of the really good big guys in our league (NESCAC Player of the Year Luke Rogers). He really took advantage of us in the first half. In the second half, we had to change what we were doing defensively to slow him down.”

Rogers scored 15 points in the first half of the Jumbos’ 102-94 double overtime win in the conference championship game, making 7 of 8 shots to help Tufts build a 12-point halftime lead. Over the final 30 minutes of regulation and overtime, Colby held Rogers to 10 points.

Friday, the Mules face another team with a strong big man in Christopher Newport’s 6-7 forward, Cutch Ellis. More concerning for Strahorn is the Captains’ defense. Christopher Newport leads the nation in 3-point defense, holding opponents to 27.3 percent shooting from behind the arc.

“The NCAA always finds a way to match up teams with contrasting styles. It will be a great test. It will be a great opportunity, and I know our guys are excited for it,” Strahorn said.

In a 95-77 win over Gordon in November, the Mules made 20 3-pointers. In a 108-62 win over rival Bowdoin in January, Colby made 19 3s. That’s the type of production Colby would like this weekend, but also knows it will not be easy.

“The wear and tear of the season eventually caught up to us. I’m hoping right now, and we were talking about this the other day in the office, it’s been a while since we had one of those days where we’re just all cooking,” Strahorn said. “The ball’s just flying through the net and you’re up to 16, 17, 18 3s. This weekend would be a nice time for that.”

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