The men’s basketball team found themselves losing for the first time this season against an unranked Viterbo University on November 18th. The Pilots struggled to put up any boards, with only 39.6 percent shooting and committing 16 turnovers.
However, just three days later, the team bounced back with a big win over Crossroads league foe, and 15th ranked, Taylor University in a nail-biter, 94-90.“It was just about us and Taylor, two really good teams, two ranked teams at our place,” head coach Ryne Lightfoot stated, “We obviously know with our conference you have to protect homecourt and you have to win your home games. For us, we knew it was going to be a tough battle, not only being a really good Taylor team, but a team that’s won a lot of games together.” Taylor won 21 games last year, as well as made the national championship the year before, and there were a lot of returning members of this successful team this year. The Taylor Trojans were also undefeated coming into the matchup, so the Pilots had a tough home matchup ahead of them. How did the team respond? “For us, we knew we needed to play really well, and our guys competed,” Lightfoot went on. “…We didn’t have to play perfect, but we had to play consistent. We struggled with that the games before and finally, we strung up 40 solid minutes (this game).” A noteworthy performance came from senior forward Gage Ott, who put up 28 points, shot 12-16 from the field and grabbed 6 rebounds. Junior forward Paul Forman put up a double-double, with 11 points and 14 rebounds. How did Lightfoot feel about Ott’s performance? “Gage was just a monster down the stretch for us,” he noted, “He’s obviously played with a chip on his shoulder. He was a guy voted for second team all-conference during the preseason...With team success comes individual success, so Gage is a guy that’s brought it every day in practice. He’s playing with some knee pain, still battling through everything, and not missing hardly a step, especially on the court. He’s been a monster for us this year. He’s number one in the country in field goal percentage. He shoots a high (field goal) percentage, but a great rebounder and defender for us as well.” How about the rest of the team? “We just had some key minutes off the bench for some guys as well,” Lightfoot added, “(Ryan) Lutz coming back into our lineup and hitting some shots for us and (Grant) Gayler played a great game for us too…Paul (Forman) was great as well and offered that secondary match-up.” Was it the response Lightfoot was hoping for after losing their first game of the season? “Losing up at Viterbo was tough for us,” Lightfoot said, “Obviously, it was our first loss. We didn’t play well and didn’t shoot well. We had between four guys that went 5 for 27, so we didn’t shoot extremely well. It was tough playing it back-to-back off a road trip, but coming back and just responding in our league, I think that’s what we want to learn from our guys...It’s a long season and the conference is tough. You hope you won’t lose any games, but if you do, you hope you can bounce back and get back on the winning train.” He continued, “It’s one of those things where our guys showed some toughness and showed some grit, not only when we were there, but they showed some grit in who they are about responding. I think that’s what makes this group special, is that they’re guys who know how to win, are used to winning and they expect to win. Not because they’re naïve or confident, but because they work to win.” The men’s basketball team would end up winning another game at Huntington on November 28th. They will be back on homecourt this Saturday playing one of their greatest rivals: Grace College. (Photo Credit: Bethel College Athletics)