York College men s basketball head coach Matt Hunter calls out a play during Sunday s game against New Jersey City College. NJCC won the game, 60-45.
York College men s basketball head coach Matt Hunter calls out a play during Sunday s game against New Jersey City College. NJCC won the game, 60-45. (RANDY FLAUM -- rflaum@yorkdispatch.com)

The mantra of York College men's basketball coach Matt Hunter sounds much the same as last year.

"Today we learned we could compete at the level it takes to play with a team like Jersey City," Hunter said Sunday evening following a 60-45 loss to New Jersey City College. "Jersey City is a really good team. We competed like some SOBs. We executed our game plan to a T. You got to take your hats off to (New Jersey City). They stepped up and made shots."

One could say that Hunter sounds a bit like a broken record considering he said much the same during last year's disappointing 6-19 season. But there is some truth to his statements when it comes to the progression of this young York College team, which features three seniors, two sophomores and 11 freshmen.

The Spartans started the season by going 1-1 in their Coaches vs. Cancer tournament over the weekend at the Grumbacher Center. On Saturday, they won by 20 points over Gallaudet (0-2), who have gone a combined 21-28 the last two seasons. On Sunday, they lost to a big and fast NJCC program that started last season 0-7 before turning things around to reach the quarterfinals of a strong New Jersey Athletic Conference and finish with a 15-13 record. New Jersey City (2-0) returned 10 players from that team. So through two games, York beat a team it was supposed to beat and lost to a team it was supposed to lose to. It's more than last year's squad could say.

"There's peaks and valleys in every season," Hunter said. "No matter if you have a team of eight seniors or eight freshmen -- in our case 11 (freshmen) -- sure there are going to be some ups and downs with things (players) haven't seen before."

As hard as it was at times to watch Sunday's game, which featured 26 Spartan turnovers, this York team is a bit more entertaining for the mere fact that no one is afraid to take it to the lane, something last year's group struggled with. A part of that might be because of this year's new NCAA officiating rules designed to reduce physicality and encourage a more open style of play -- perhaps a topic to expand upon another day.

"We put a big emphasis on getting the ball into the paint, whether it's on post-ups or drives," Hunter said. "With the way the game is being officiated you have to put pressure on defenses that way. We just got to figure out what are the good shots? That's part of the learning process for these guys."

York trailed NJCC by six (26-20) at intermission and eight (38-30) with 15:02 remaining in the second half before NJCCpulled away for good. Despite NJCC's size -- eight players are at least 6-feet, 5-inches tall -- York still managed to win the rebounding battle, 32-25. Senior Matt McNeely posted a team-high 18 points to go along with six rebounds.

This team is far from ready to compete for a championship. But there have been steps taken in the right direction in just two games.

"It's Nov. 17. We'll be playing games until the end of February. We just have to keep getting better," Hunter said.

York's next test will come Wednesday when Gettysburg (0-2) stops by for an 8 p.m. game. That will follow what should be a competitive women's game between York (2-0) and Eastern Mennonite (2-0) that tips off at 6 p.m.

-- Reach John Walk at jwalk@yorkdispatch.com.