The men’s basketball team welcomed the Bluffton Beavers to O.C. Lewis Gymnasium Saturday for Senior Day, the last home game of the season. With hopes for a regular season HCAC championship still alive, the Ravens looked to send two Raven seniors off victorious, for the final time.
Brett Anderson, one of the two seniors honored for a strong body of work during his Raven career, touched on what it meant to suit up to play in O.C. Lewis for a final time. “It’s always a lot of fun playing in O.C.,” he said. “Our fans create a great atmosphere, game in and game out.”
Nathaniel Acree, one of Anderson’s fellow co-captains, was also honored before the game. Both Acree and Anderson have made an immense impact on the team during their four years.
Acree, AU’s 36th member of the 1,000 point club, is the program’s all-time leader in 3-point field goals, connecting from deep 225 times in his career. Anderson is no slouch from deep either, currently sitting eighth all-time in 3-point field goals made during his AU career, having knocked down 133 triples. He has a realistic shot at climbing to sixth before season’s end.
Their contributions far exceed made threes. Both draw the toughest defensive assignments on a nightly basis. Acree gets tasked with slowing down opponents’ best perimeter scorers while Anderson is left to bang with their best post players, often opponents much bigger than he. Acree has developed into a particular defensive stalwart, leading AU in both steals and blocks. The difficult shots he forces opponents to take don’t show up as a statistic for Acree, but may be the most impressive part of his defensive game.
Acree and Anderson’s teammates rave about the culture the seniors have helped cultivate. “Being able to play under Brett and Nate for three years has been a great experience,” said Cory Kreiger, a junior and team co-captain. “They have shown me what it takes to be a good basketball player, teammate and person.”
Brantson Scott, a sophomore who is out for the year with injury, has still been tremendously impacted by the seniors. “They are both leaders who aren’t afraid to step in and help correct mistakes,” he said. “They also lead by example. Both are men of faith and aren’t afraid to show it.”
It was only fitting that Senior Day would become an extravaganza when two Ravens with such strong legacies took the court in O.C. Lewis Gymnasium for the final time. Excitement abounded throughout the gym, enhanced by a rim-rattling dunk and the opportunity for one lucky fan to make a ¾ court shot to win Coach Handy’s motorcycle (the motorcycle remained in Handy’s possession as no such shot was made), as O.C. Lewis seemingly surpassed decibel levels not yet reached this season.
The game itself was never particularly close. The Ravens defeated the Beavers 98-72. Their 26-point margin of victory was their first double-digit point spread since their victory over Frostburg State on Dec. 30. Trevor Lucas poured in 26 points, 23 of which came in the first half. Cole Hartman added 21 points and shot 69 percent from the field. The two seniors both made solid contributions to the box score as well. Acree had seven points, five assists and four rebounds. Anderson chipped in 10 points and hauled in a game-high seven rebounds.
Anderson spoke about the meaning of the victory. “I think that win exemplifies the growth we’ve had as a program the last four years,” he said. ‘We’ve come a long way since the struggles we experienced my freshman year.”
The Ravens posted a 6-19 record back in 2013-2014, accumulating zero non-conference wins. After Saturday’s victory, the Ravens now hold a 16-7 record on the season, 13-3 in HCAC play. Much of the credit for the program turnaround can be given to Acree and Anderson.
The work they have put in over the years has paid off, as the Ravens have been able to bring many solid contributors to the program, setting the Ravens up for a bright future once Acree and Anderson have moved on. One of those solid building blocks for the future is Malik Laffoon, a freshman out of Bloomington, Indiana. Laffoon came into Saturday averaging 3.6 points per game in just over 11 minutes per game. Laffoon had one of the strongest games of his career, scoring eight points in 13 minutes, and providing arguably the highlight of the season for the Ravens.
With AU leading late in the second half, Laffoon attacked the basket from the right side, picked up his dribble from near the free throw line and elevated, soaring over a Bluffton defender before flushing the ball through the hoop with his right hand. The roof nearly came off of the building as students erupted in celebration.
“The best dunk I’ve ever seen out of the half-court in O.C. Lewis,” exclaimed Ravens’ public address announcer, Trent Palmer.
Laffoon’s dunk was the final nail in the coffin, taking all of the air out of Bluffton and ending any hope of a miracle comeback.
With under four minutes to go, Acree was reinserted into the game, before being subbed out at the next dead ball, allowing the Raven faithful to cheer the marksman for one final time as he walked off the floor. He embraced with his coaches and teammates as he reached the bench. The scene was repeated as Anderson received the same roaring applause from the fans as he subbed out.
Anderson reflected on his time in Raven orange after the game. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships and made many memories over the last four years,” he said. “it hasn’t always been fun, but there’s no doubt I’ve learned a lot about staying committed and working through the hard times.
There is no doubt that I am a better person now than I was four years ago. I owe a lot of that development to this program.”
Two games remain on the docket for the Ravens in the regular season. Tonight the Ravens will play at Rose-Hulman before concluding their season at Franklin on Saturday. AU has already clinched a spot in the HCAC tournament, where they will likely be the two seed depending on the results of Hanover and Mount St. Joseph’s final two contests.
Anderson is excited for the opportunities being provided as the regular season draws to a close. “With only a couple of weeks left, I just want to leave it all on the court,” he explained. “We have a great opportunity ahead of us, one I’d hate to see us throw away. As long as we give our best effort, no matter how the season ends, I’ll be proud of our effort and growth as a team this year.”
Effort and growth in which, undoubtedly, Anderson and fellow senior Acree, laid the framework.