The men’s basketball team finds itself in fifth place in the HCAC following a huge upset win over conference leading Hanover. With just four games left, the Ravens will need to put together a few tough wins in order to secure a spot in the postseason tournament.
Over the next ten days, the men will face off against four other teams also looking to solidify their position in the tournament. They will play sixth ranked Manchester and fourth ranked Bluffton on the road before coming home to take on second ranked Rose-Hulman and third ranked Transylvania.
The Ravens will likely need to win at least two of these games to earn the right to play in the HCAC tournament. Only the top six teams make the conference tournament, and the men are just a game and a half ahead of seventh ranked Franklin.
Head coach Owen Handy has endured lots of ups and downs this season. Right before upsetting Hanover, the men lost to last place Defiance College 77-60 extending the Raven’s losing streak to three games. Just three days later, they played a consistent and strong game against the Panthers and picked up a huge win at home.
“The biggest challenge for us will be consistency,” said Handy. “At our best, we are really good. But we’ve struggled to be consistent this year. When we are focused on our game plan we can be great, and I expect we’ll see more of that team over the last couple of weeks of the season.”
Consistency will be key as they look to build momentum in the season’s home stretch. The team is 2-2 against its remaining opponents so far this season, picking up home wins against Bluffton and Manchester in January.
It’s not all about survival for the Ravens. The team has a chance to catch up to fourth place Bluffton with a few wins over the next week and a half. If they are able to surpass the Beavers, Anderson will earn the right to host their first opponent in the HCAC tournament.
“We just need to keep competing for 40 minutes,” said junior guard Malik Laffoon. “When we move the ball and are unselfish on offense, we are really hard to guard. Defensively, if we keep being attentive to the game plan and keep teams off the offensive glass, we will be in a good spot.”
One thing that plays in the Ravens favor is their depth. The team has been able to rely on a number of different role players to come up big in key moments late in the season. Freshman Michael Rogers got his first collegiate start Saturday and made the most of it, hitting four of his five three-point attempts and racking up a career high 16 points. After playing just 17 minutes in a four game stretch, Handy turned to the freshmen against Defiance and saw good enough production to promote him into the starting lineup.
“Saturday evening we saw Michael Rogers and Jalen Johnson both play very well,” said Handy. “But I can point to several others. Isaiah Lockhart played lockup defense in our home game against Earlham. Wes Davidson led our team to a win at Mount St. Joseph with a couple of big baskets and he took a critical charge. That was our first win there in my seven years here. Ronny Williams was really good at home against Defiance. Austin Lyons had a 4-point play at Kalamazoo that turned the tide for us on the road there. One of the fun things about our team this year has been the number of different players who have stepped up in big moments.”
The many different players that Handy can pair with his regular starters has helped the Ravens immensely. While some players haven’t seen consistent minutes during the season for one reason or another, they all stay ready for their coach and make big plays when it matters most.
While the Ravens overall record (8-13) leaves something to be desired, Handy believes that the extremely tough non-conference schedule has helped many of his players down the stretch.
“I think our non-conference schedule has been a net positive,” added Handy. “There have definitely been moments where I doubted that. Two specific ways I think it has been a positive: we’ve seen Maurice Knight start to emerge as a guy who can dominate a game defensively. He’s not perfect, and he needs to keep working on some things, but he had to match up and guard at least two probable All-American selections and a couple of other players who are close to that level. He embraced those challenges and got better as a result of it. We also saw teams that are bigger and more physical than we are, which I think toughened us up when defending the basket area.”
The men will hit the road tonight to take on Manchester. The last time these two teams met, the Ravens came out on top 82-71.