After an up-and-down season, the men’s basketball team was able to finish strong by winning four games in a row out of five.
The Ravens lost on the road to Defiance, the last-ranked team in the conference, before returning home to defeat top-ranked Hanover in a major upset. That sparked a streak where the men took down three teams who finished above them in the HCAC standings.
On Saturday, they lost 96-89 in a close contest to third-ranked Transylvania, wrapping up their regular season.
“Two things in particular have stood out during the past couple of weeks,” said head coach Owen Handy. “First, we’ve played with poise and composure at both ends of the floor. For the most part, we’ve had guys play within themselves and have a very tight focus on consistent execution. I think playing with a free mind is important in big games and big moments, and you get that by having a very narrow focus on what is immediately needed.
“The second is, we’ve really defended well. While that was not as true in our final game against Transylvania, in the previous four games, I think we have really been focused on executing our defensive game plan.”
During their four game winning streak, the team only gave up an average of 64 points per game compared to the 75 per game they averaged throughout the whole season.
Their focus is now shifted towards Bluffton, their round one matchup in the HCAC tournament. The Ravens were 2-0 against Bluffton this season.
“We are playing as well as anyone in the conference right now,” added Handy. “We have a lockup individual defender in Maurice Knight, who I believe can guard anyone we match him up with. Cole Hartman is an elite offensive player and an exceptional decision-maker, so we know where the ball is going when we need a big basket. We have done a great job of consistently getting the ball to the basket area, whether off the post-up, dribble-drive or cut and pass.”
Knight and Hartman were key in the Raven’s late season surge. Knight was able to effectively guard Hanover’s likely All-American guard Cam Fails while also contributing 21 points himself. Hartman has come alive late in the season, scoring 25, 17 and 29 points over his final three games.
“We are an elite free throw shooting team,” said Handy. “I think each of these elements are really important to success in a tournament setting. We’ve been really good over the past few weeks, and I think that will continue. Obviously that does not guarantee anything. We still have to show up and play well, but we should walk into the gym with a lot of confidence.”
The Ravens have also received valuable contributions from a variety of players. Freshman Michael Rogers and senior Mike Peters have been effective both off the bench and in the starting lineup this season. “It adds to an already versatile and deep team when players are able to contribute in multiple ways,” said Handy.
“I think we just started playing with more of a sense of urgency,” said Peters. “We started to trust the hard work we had put into the beginning of the season. After we lost to Defiance, we knew we had to make some changes. And our team really worked hard and competed to get to where we are now.
“It would have been really easy for us to just give up after that loss, but we all worked hard and stuck together, and that put us in the position we’re in now.”
With the hot streak they have been on, teams will not relish having to play the Ravens in the postseason tournament. They have proven that they are a resilient team who can come out and beat anyone in the conference.
“Our first key to success is playing help defense,” said Handy. “We’ve had moments this season where we simply have not done a very good job of helping. Sometimes that is because we are not attentive to it. Sometimes that is because we give up drives to the middle of the floor too often. A second key is our recovery to shooters. We’ve not done a great job this year of getting back to contest perimeter jump shots. If we can really hone in on doing those two things well, I think we’ve got a real shot in the tournament.”
The Ravens will travel to Hanover Friday night to face off against Bluffton in the first round of the HCAC tournament. The winner will advance to play Hanover on Saturday, and the championship game will be played on Sunday.