After piling up a school record 14 HCAC wins during the regular season, hopes were high that the men’s basketball team would bring a conference tournament championship trophy with them on the return trip from Hanover. In a stunning turn of events, the Ravens’ season came to an early end, losing to sixth-seeded Manchester 78-77 in the conference tournament opening round. The Ravens twice defeated Manchester during the regular season, defeating Manchester 99-87 on Jan. 18 and 79-76 on Feb. 8. Beating a talented Manchester squad three times in a little over a month proved too much of a task for the Ravens.
“Manchester is a good team,” said Stanley Duncan. “They were able to pressure us early and force some missed shots.”
While the Ravens shot only 44 percent from the floor, missing shots in something Duncan didn’t do often Friday night. The sophomore guard poured in 40 points, two shy of the tournament record, on 9-14 shooting from the field and 19-20 from the charity stripe. He credited an early aggression off the dribble, snaring a couple of offensive rebounds and cutting hard to the basket as reasons for the scoring outburst. The rest of the team combined to shoot 11-32 from the floor.
Duncan had 37 points in the Jan. 18 victory over Manchester, but his offensive masterpiece was not enough to advance the Ravens to the second round. ‘We made too many minor mistakes,” Duncan explained. “We got down early and we didn’t play our style and that hurt us in the end.”
With 22 seconds remaining in the contest, Duncan knocked down two free throws to put AU in front after trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half. The comeback effort fell just short as reigning HCAC Player of the Year Tyler Alexander scored out of the post with seven seconds left to give the Spartans the victory. Duncan was named to the HCAC All-Tournament Team in recognition of his performance.
The defeat brought an end to the careers of respected seniors Nathaniel Acree and Brett Anderson. Acree leaves as AU’s all-time leader in three-pointers with 229 and the 29th spot on Anderson’s all-time scoring list.
Anderson knocked down 136 triples during his time in a Raven uniform, good for eighth on the school’s all-time list.
Replacing Acree and Anderson will be no small task, but with so many pieces of a talented core returning next season, there is much optimism for the future.
“Nate and Brett are huge losses because of how important they were to us,” Duncan said. “Everyone else will be a year older and more experienced. I have no doubt that we’ll be back in the conference tournament and competing for a championship.”
While the sting of the upset loss has yet to wear off, HCAC scoring champion Trevor Lucas views the season as successful. “We showed a lot of fight all season long,” he said. “At times we came up short, but we always persevered. There was only one game this season in which we didn’t have a chance to win with under three minutes to play.”
Lucas also touched on many of the national accomplishments racked up during the season. The Ravens finished second in free throw percentage, third in field goal percentage, fifth in free throws made, 18th in scoring offense and 25th in free throw attempts.
Multiple Ravens also ranked in the nation’s top 50 on many individual statistics lists. Cole Hartman finished 11th in the country in field goal percentage, shooting 63.8 percent from the floor. Duncan was tied for 36th in the country with 136 free throws made, but jumped up to third in the country in free throw percentage, converting on 93.2 percent of his freebies. Lucas’ 197 field goals made were the 31st most in the country and his 21 points per game scoring average was good for 38th best in the nation.
The many individual accolades and the school record for conference wins thrilled Lucas. “This couldn’t have happened to a better group of guys,” he said. “All of my teammates are great people on and off the court and we have a bunch of competitive guys that want to win.”
That competitive nature will lend itself nicely to building off of this season. The Ravens took a big step forward this year. They finished the 2015-2016 season on a four game losing streak, when only one win would have qualified them for a trip to the conference tournament. This season they jumped to third in the conference. After tasting the tournament this year, the Ravens are already hungry for more.
“We have a bitter taste in our mouths from a one-point loss in the tournament,” explained Lucas. “We will use that as motivation going into next year.”