Winning season finishes in high spirits

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Story by Kelsey Randolph, Sports Editor

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Jenny Rohl/The News Junior guard Damarcus Croaker jumps for a layup during the first round of the OVC Tournament March 2.

Ending its 29th consecutive winning season in a row, the men’s basketball team fought through a season filled with adversity and learning.

“This program meant a lot to me, too,” said senior forward Wayne Langston. “Coming from a JuCo, when I came in, it was tough for me at first, but I stayed with it and stayed with the process. I competed every day in practice and I got better.”

The team saw its first OVC Tournament where they did not receive a bye, and for the first time since 1987, the team saw a sixth seed spot in the tournament.

Though their season ended in the quarterfinals, the tournament did not define the Racers’ season.

Starting their season, former sophomore guard Kedrick Flomo had to leave the team because of emergency heart surgery. He is expected to return to the team for the 2016-17 season and see a full recovery.

After handling Flomo’s empty seat, the team continued to see small numbers. Ranked among the 10th smallest lineups in the country, the Racers came out of the gate winning their exhibition game against Harris-Stowe State, 105-55.

Prepping for conference play was tricky for the team given the small number of players.

The Racers went on a five-game losing streak from Dec. 2, 2015 until their win over Brescia on Dec. 30, 2015.

“I didn’t really think about the five-game losing streak. We came back from Christmas with a fresh start, 0-0,” said Head Coach Matt McMahon.

McMahon said he saw the team sharing the ball more and finding the free-throw line, a result of their extra effort on the offensive glass, and it set that game apart from the previous five games. He said it gave them confidence.

After beginning conference play with a win over Morehead State 62-57, the Racers fought a back and forth winning and losing battle with Tennessee Tech, Jacksonville State, Belmont, Tennessee State and then winning again against Eastern Illinois on Jan. 21. The team didn’t see their first road win until Jan. 27 when they beat Eastern Kentucky 75-71.

The team then pushed through a road swing, allowing the OVC West’s No. 1 seed, the UT Martin Skyhawks, to beat the Racers 63-59 on national TV. It wasn’t until the final game of the season that the Racers pulled a 24-point lead against UT Martin, 79-55.

McMahon said there was focus on both ends of the floor, and it was just an all-around fun team to watch during their matchup with the Skyhawks.

The Racers’ 29-season win streak is the fourth longest in the nation, tied with the University of Connecticut.

The season ended in the quarterfinals against Morehead State, 75-66. The Racers averaged 71.4 points per game, 32.8 rebounds and 14.4 assists.

Looking ahead, McMahon said he wants to see the team work hard over the summer and see the juniors step up into their senior role.

McMahon said the identity of the team from a character standpoint, along with unselfishness and toughness, was where he wanted the team to finish. Moving forward, he said he’d like to see the team play as more of a half-court team but felt this year the team didn’t have the numbers it needed to play that way.

He said he is really pleased with how the team played in effort-type stats. More specifically, the four guard team as well as playing with one of the smallest lineups in the country.

“It was a fun group,” McMahon said. “We had plenty of times to fold this year; facing adversity, I thought these guys were really resilient. They kept coming back each day and kept battling to get better and improve as the season went on.”