It’s March 3, and the season is over for the ORU men’s basketball team. The book on this season closed following a crushing 82-80 defeat to regular season conference champion North Dakota State on Feb. 23.
The loss gave the Golden Eagles a final 8-22 record on the season, the team’s worst record since 1993. It was also the worst season in Head Coach Scott Sutton’s 18-year tenure at ORU.
“[This season] has been frustrating, on the floor. We just haven’t been able to get the wins or have the seasons the last couple of years like we’ve expected or like we’re used to. I feel awful for our seniors that this has happened,” said Sutton. “They’re a great group of kids, especially that senior class. All five guys are all graduating and have done a lot of great things off the floor.”
The team loses seniors Aaron “Deuce” Anderson, Jalen Bradley, Isaac Gilliam, Darrian Harris and Aaron Young. The group combined to start 69 games this season. Anderson, Bradley, Harris and Young all averaged career-highs in both minutes and points per game.
The Golden Eagles will return three starters next season including leading rebounder Emmanuel Nzekwesi, leading three-point shooter Kris Martin (40.6 percent on three-point attempts) and center Albert Owens, who led the team in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per game and 20 points per game during Summit League play.
Other returning players include Jontray Harris, Kellen Manek, Dezmond McDaniel, Chris Miller, RJ Smith and Spencer Sutton. One key ingredient the Golden Eagles were without this season was sophomore forward Javan White. White played 23 games during his freshman season, but was forced to miss the entire 2016 season with a leg injury. He’s battled several injuries during his short time at ORU, but the team hopes he can stay healthy and be an important piece going forward.
During his final press conference of the season, Sutton was complimentary of his players, but says recruiting will be the key. He added that while the team would be adding freshmen to next season’s roster, it would also be beneficial to add a few older “plug and play” guys to the young nucleus.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m throwing any of our guys under the bus, because I’m not. They’ve given me everything they had, but in spots we were small. Our guards we’re a little small, and it hurt us defensively. We also weren’t as athletic this year as we’ve been in the past. Losing Javan, DaQuan Jeffries and Chris Crawford, those would have been our three best athletes on our team,” said Sutton. “We feel good about the guys we’ve signed this fall, and I’m going out to see if we can sign a few more this spring.”