By Clinton Dick
A tough ending didn’t stop Matt O’Brien, head men’s basketball coach, and the men’s basketball team from having a winning season. The men finished seventh in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference with a 16-12 overall record and 8-10 record in conference play.
“It was an injury-prone season and we learned a lot about ourselves and how to deal with adversity,” said O’Brien. “We did have some of our younger players get a considerable amount of playing time.”
Expectations ran high as the Builders were picked for a tie for third place with Bethel College in the conference in the preseason polls.
They made a statement early on, starting the season 7-1 and leading the KCAC going into conference play. The team beat out non-conference opponents such as Southwestern Christian University, Hillsdale Free Will Baptist College and Calvary Bible College twice.
Despite their winning record, the team struggled through early season injuries to many key players including James Davis, junior guard, Brayden Crowe, junior guard, and David King, senior center.
“We had to change our style of play a couple of times throughout the season due to injuries,” said O’Brien. “We had a very fast pace at the first of the season and had to slow way down during mid-season.”
Things fell apart quick in their opening conference games. They were blown away by Sterling 71-53 in their conference opener and lost two days later in Salina against Kansas Wesleyan 65-63.
The Builder’s up and down season continued when they won three of their next four, only to fall into a rut again. From Jan. 6 to Jan. 22, the team lost five of their six games, all to conference opponents.
A redeeming 60-42 win over Kansas Wesleyan Jan. 27 put the team back on the upswing and they won five of their next six, including a one point win against the top-ranked team in the KCAC at the time, Tabor, in Hillsboro.
The team also returned those players who were injured early in the season and remained healthy throughout the rest of the year.
The winning streak gave them an opportunity to grab fourth place in the conference and a home playoff game. But two straight losses sent the Builders to McPherson for the first round of the KCAC tournament, where they fell 83-68 to end the season.
Travis Thurau, senior forward, Stuart Ballard, senior forward, and King were the three seniors on the squad this year and were honored on senior night Feb. 19.
“The seniors have been a big part of our program for the past two years,” said O’Brien. “They have all played well down the stretch.”
Ethan Randolph, junior forward, led the team in scoring and was the KCAC’s sixth leading scorer, averaging 14.12 points per game.
Chris Nelson, junior guard, dominated the boards throughout the year, leading the conference in rebounding. He averaged 7.93 rebounds per game.
“We are going to have a great core group of guys coming back,” said O’Brien. “We will have a good returning senior class as well.”
Clinton Dick is a sophomore majoring in convergent journalism. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.