By Chandler Hall
The men’s basketball team (27-4) beat No. 1 Oklahoma Wesleyan (30-3), 78-75, in the conference finals of the KCAC tournament on Feb. 25 at Hartman Arena in Park City, KS.
The Builders and Eagles have faced each other twice before in the regular season, splitting the series 1-1. The Builders have been to the conference finals four years in a row.
They lost in 2015-16 season to Tabor 75-68, the 2016-17 season to York 109-104 in overtime and the 2017-18 season to Oklahoma Wesleyan 84-64.
Brent Smith, senior center, said, “It’s great. We’ve come here the past four years and never won one. We finally did it.”
The Builders got off to a fast start leading the Eagles 9-2. The Eagles caught up with 15 minutes left in the first half and it was close the rest of the half. The Builders trailed 34-36 at halftime.
“We knew it was going to be a game of runs and we couldn’t get too rattled. We know both teams are great teams and we were going to have made some big plays and we did it,” said Cameron Hunt,
The Builders took the lead with 10 minutes left in the second half. The game was shot for shot from there. This match had all the features of their previous game against Oklahoma Wesleyan. It was 75-78 with seven seconds left, Oklahoma Wesleyan’s ball. This time, Oklahoma Wesleyan missed the shot and the buzzer sounded as Hunt dribbled up the floor with the rebound.
Smith said, “I just exploded as soon as it ended, thinking of everything we’ve done in four years and we’ve finally won this.”
Hunt led the team in points with 29, and rebounds with 12.
“We have total confidence in Cameron Hunt, there is no doubt what we’re going to do. We’re not reinventing the wheel out there,” said Matt O’ Brien, head men’s basketball coach.
Simpson Anderson, senior guard, led the team in assists with five in total.
The Builder’s field goal percentage was 39.1 and they were 17 for 17 on free throws.
O’Brien said, “You know Builder nation, they’re a big part of it. We had that tough loss against Oklahoma Wesleyan, it was an unbelievable environment, they came and helped us verses York, they were the best in the country verses friends and they showed up here tonight. Builder nation really gave us the extra energy to get this done. The way we’re coming together as a school over the last three weeks to a month has been neat.”
The Builders relied on their experience to carry them to a conference championship.
“The amount of experience we’ve had, I don’t know if I can count them up, but we’ve played in a lot of championship environments and we’ve been here for the fourth straight time. It feels so great to get that done,” O’Brien said.
“It really is a monkey off our back. You get here four years in a row and finally win one, it feels great. I’m really happy for the seniors that stuck with us and kept believing in what we were doing.”
Hunt said the team is going to enjoy this and then they’re going to get back to work, keep trusting their shooters and play hard at nationals.
“We’re KCAC champions. Three years in a row, you sit there and watch the other team celebrate at half court. It’s a really hard deal to take. We’ve had some heartbreaking losses in [Hartman Arena]. You know, I do think things happen for a reason. It has made us tougher and I really do believe in life it is going to make them tougher.”
The lesson that they’ve learned of just keeping going. If things aren’t going well, just keep going, if you keep getting knocked down, just keep getting back up and working and good things will happen for you.
O’Brien said, “We’re going to take some time to enjoy this. That usually isn’t our style, but we’re going to take about 24 hours and enjoy this and then our staff will get back into the grind tomorrow and figure [nationals] out.”
The men’s basketball team is going to the national tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. It will take place from March 6 to the 12. The Builders opponent is yet to be determined.
Chandler Hall is a junior majoring in communication. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.