Men’s basketball is competing in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament after having the most OVC wins since their 2014-2015 season. While the women’s team didn’t make the OVC, they’re preparing for their next season.
The women’s team left Saturday’s game with a record of 3-17 in the OVC and 6-19 overall. The men’s team left with a record of 7-12 in OVC and 9-16 overall, putting them in position to go to the OVC tournament despite obstacles Head Coach Brian Barone said they faced throughout the season.
“You take 33 days off in the middle of the season, you have two full practices in an 18-game stretch that you can actually practice and not have to just jog through stuff,” Barone said. “And to win enough to get into the tournament says a lot about what we’ve overcome with two season-ending injuries the last three weeks, a season-ending injury to start the season for Ray’Sean Taylor and then having people with COVID out 10 to 16 days, that’s more of the story than anything, and that’s something that we’ve put ourselves in position to go to the OVC tournament.”
Women’s Basketball Head Coach Paula Buscher said her team also faced obstacles this season, but she’s grateful regardless.
“You know, I give a lot of credit to our players, with the pandemic and all the different things that have gone on, they’ve sacrificed a lot and I really appreciate that,” Buscher said. “And there’s also support staff and everybody else. It’s unbelievable how many people were involved to pull this off and allow us to get to play the game we love.”
With their last game of the season behind them, Buscher said her team is already looking forward to next season.
“We’ll sit down and we’ll have some individual meetings and ask them what do they feel like went well, what do they feel like they need to work on, and really it’s just setting up an individual plan for where they take it in the spring through the summer and get ready for next season,” Buscher said.
Despite their 69-63 loss on Saturday, men’s basketball was on the verge of a comeback after a 15-point push in the second half after being behind 47-31. This led to a constant push-back with the score being tied at 48-48 with 8:36 minutes left in the game.
Barone said he attributes the team’s improvement in the second half to their natural instincts and consistency.
“I just think we finally just started seeing the ball go in a little bit and whenever your offense picks up and the ball goes in, naturally our defense really picked up as well,” Barone said. “We just made some shots and we keep believing and we stay consistent in our effort. And I think that’s why we had our little run right there.”
An intense moment in the women’s game happened during the last half of the final quarter. The Cougars managed to score three consecutive field goal attempts, two of which were scored by junior guard Masyn McWilliams. However, one of the Cougars’ missed attempts allowed the Redhawks’ sophomore forward Sophia Hancock to steal, passing to redshirt junior guard Terri Smith, who attempted to dribble out the clock. The Cougars stole it back, and freshman guard Caite Knutson scored a last-minute layup with only two seconds remaining in the quarter, but it wasn’t enough to put the Cougars on top. The night ended in a 63-52 SEMO victory.
During the men’s basketball game, junior guard Courtney Carter scored 16 points in the second half of the game despite having a hard first half, scoring no points.
Barone said this rough start was due to his play time being limited in the first half of the game.
“Courtney’s a guy that has a lot of ability to do great, he’s a great young man,” Barone said. “He had two fouls in the first half [and] he was limited in his minutes, but once he got comfortable in kind of understanding [how] defense was stacked against him, he was able to take advantage accordingly.”
Buscher said her team has had standout players, both in Saturday’s game and year-round.
“Prima Chellis is starting to play, I think we just got a little glimpse of what her future will hold and how she’ll play, even in the last maybe three or four games, she got a different comfort zone,” Buscher said. “And then Ajulu Thatha has ... improved every single year since she started playing basketball. She started playing the sport late compared to other people who get the chance to play it when they’re young, and she has just improved dramatically [from] last year to this year, and you’re going to see another huge jump with that.”
Barone said he is proud of his team for having pushed through a difficult season and still has his eye on their ultimate goal.
“Our long-term goals are always going to be to win a championship one day here, but with everything we’ve had to overcome this year and push ourselves to get into the tournament, it really says a lot about the character of this team,” Barone said.
While the women’s team didn’t make it into the OVC, Buscher said they plan to use the off-season to improve for next season.
“Every coach will tell you this, but great players are made in the off-season,” Buscher said. “You see somebody like, ‘Man, they got a lot better,’ and everyone thinks it happened right during the season. You go back about four months to six months, and you’ll understand the grind and the hours they put in the gym: working on their first step moves, working on their pivots, working on their shot and their release, that’s where great players are made. So I think that’s gonna be the biggest step for us, is making that commitment in the off-season to get better.”