The Raider basketball team wants to do a little bit better than just get close this season.
Last year, the Madison County boys’ basketball team went 4-21, suffering 10 losses by single digits — some of which came in excruciating fashion.
But the team pulled out three victories in its last six regular season games, including a stunner over Clarke Central, which served as the highlight of the season.
“We finished last year strong,” coach Steve Crouse said. “We had a lot of close games last year.”
This year, Madison County returns its entire roster — one that includes seven seniors — and looks to turn things around after winning just six games the last two seasons combined.
“We’re bringing everybody back, so our expectations are high,” said Crouse. “And we have to have that confidence that if we get a little adversity early that we can persevere and overcome all that.”
Madison County, led by junior post player Patrick McCrary who averaged 14.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game last year, starts its season Saturday at Brookwood.
Crouse said this year’s Raiders have gotten stronger and quicker with several who can handle the ball and shoot.
One area in which the team wants turn the tables during is free throw shooting.
Madison County shot below a 60 percent clip from the free throw line the past two seasons and misses at the charity strip cost the Raiders dearly in some of those close losses last year. Crouse said his team’s performance at the line last winter became a liability.
“We were getting to the free throw line and weren’t making it,” he said.
But the team might have started turning the corner in the offseason, demonstrating in some summer basketball exhibition games the ability to come through in the clutch.
“We didn’t win every (game), but the games where we stepped up and made our free throws, those are the ones we won,” he said. “So I think the guys really realize that that’s important. It’s hard to simulate that in practice.”
But perhaps more than anything, getting more offensive possessions is the key to success for the Raiders.
“We’ve got to have the ball in our hands ... that’s why rebounding and defense are very, very, very important for us,” Crouse said.
Entering his ninth year on the job, the coach feels there’s been a bit of a buzz in the preseason as the players have returned to the court.
Crouse noted that several put in extra work during the off-season and after practice. The hope is that kind of drive that will make the difference this season.
“So they’re hungry and that’s big,” Crouse said. “We’ve got to stay hungry.”