ABOVE: Jarehn White, junior guard, looks to pass during the men’s basketball game against the Bethany Swedes on Jan. 16. The team will play in the KCAC championship game at 6 p.m. Feb. 25 at Hartman Arena in Park City against Oklahoma Wesleyan University. (Tessa Castor/Staff photographer)
By Chandler Hall
Men’s basketball met the Friends University Falcons for the third time this season.
The Builders took on the Falcons in the semi-finals of the KCAC tournament at 2 p.m. on Feb. 23 in Stewart Field House.
Matt O’Brien, head men’s basketball coach, said, “We prepare the same exact way for every single opponent, the only slight difference is that we’ll watch film on our previous game that we played them. That’s the only difference. We’re big on routine and doing the same thing night in and night out.”
The Builders knew the challenge of facing a team for a third time.
O’Brien said, “We both know each other really well so it makes the game really difficult.”
Friends won the tip and quickly got the ball to the basket. The Builders answered with a three-point shot as the shot clock expired.
The Builders went into halftime down 41-36. In the second half, they tried to find their rhythm.
After a series of three-point shots, the Builders took the lead 66-65 with eight minutes left in the second half.
The game would continue to be back-and-forth exchanging baskets.
With 39 seconds left, the Builders led, but the Falcons had the ball. The crowd chanted for the defense of the Builders. Friends air-balled a shot and Cameron Hunt, senior guard, grabbed the rebound.
Hunt was quickly fouled and went to the line with 19 seconds left. He made both free throws, bringing the score to 84-81.
The Builders went to the line again after another missed shot by the Falcons. Southwestern won the game 86-81 and advanced to the KCAC finals for the fourth year in a row.
Hunt led the team in points with 32 and in assists with 8. Brent Smith, senior center, had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Hunt said, “We knew it was going to be a battle. There was going to be a lot of runs made. There was a lot of highs and lows and we just maintained our energy.”
The Builders knew it would take that energy to win this game.
O’Brien said, “Today’s biggest message was the tougher team is going to win. You have to be tough,”
Andrew Hamm, junior guard, said, “Coach told us to keep playing tough and tone out the refs and we’ll come out victorious.”
O’Brien said he encouraged his team during the timeouts with positive reinforcement, urging them to stick together. He told his team they deserved to win and they needed to believe in each other.
When battling back from being down, the Builders’ bond kept them positive.
Hunt said, “We have a great leadership team. We all stick together and we all love playing with each other and it showed.”
The Builders are appearing in their fourth-consecutive KCAC finals. They have lost the last three and are looking to win their first one in four years. They will Oklahoma Wesleyan University at 6 p.m. on Feb. 25 at Hartman Arena in Park City.
O’Brien said, “The consistency of these guys working to get to this championship game, four years in a row is truly a really nice accomplishment. We want to win it. We really want to win it. We’re playing against the number one team in the nation, but we feel like we have a chance to go in there and beat them,”
Chandler Hall is a junior majoring in communication. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.