The Ottawa University men’s basketball team is not easing into the KCAC schedule. The Braves’ first two games are against the conference favorites.
Ottawa opened the KCAC schedule with an exciting 89-87 victory Wednesday over No. 7 Oklahoma Wesleyan in front of loud Wilson Field House crowd. The Braves face 13th-ranked Southwestern in Winfield at 5 p.m. Saturday. Southwestern and Oklahoma Wesleyan were the top teams last year and are expected to battle this season for the crown.
For Ottawa, road wins is what kept the Braves from being in the championship mix last season. Ottawa went 5-10 away from Wilson Field House.
“Our thing this year is can we go on the road and win some games,” Ottawa coach Aaron Siebenthall said. “We have to go on the road and win some games and knock off some top teams. What a better opportunity than Saturday night.”
Southwestern (4-1, 0-1) is coming off a 78-73 loss to upstart Bethel in North Newton on Wednesday.
“They are a tough team,” Siebenthall said of the Moundbuilders. “They are playing really well and scoring a lot of points. There is no easy games in this league. You have to prepare every (game). Every night in the KCAC is a grind.”
Ottawa and Southwestern split games last year, each winning on its home floor.
“We will see what we have on Saturday,” Siebenthall said.
Ottawa comes in to the game battle-tested after the thrilling victory.
“It is a culmination of our guys coming together,” Siebenthall said. “What I am excited about is our guys believe they can be a good team. They have the makings of being a good team. They are bought into each other. There was not a time that the guys were not playing as hard as they can. If they will do that every day in practice and bring that to games, then we have a chance to be a pretty good team.”
Ottawa has won its first six games four times in its program history: 2019-20, 1980-81, 1952-53 and 1938-39. The 1938-39 team won its first 11 games and won the Kansas Conference title.
Siebenthall likes the direction of this team despite not executing well in all facets of the game yet.
“There were things that were not great execution-wise,” he said. “There was stuff we can do better. We got outrebounded by 20. We were up 16 with six minutes to go. They hit some really deep and contested threes. We had a couple of silly fouls. You have to give those guys credit. They can make some tough shots. Our guys responded.”
The coach said Ottawa will get better at end-of-game situations.
“We will learn from that end-of-game (strategy),” Siebenthall said. “Once or twice a week, we are working on end-of-game situations like that. We are going to trust our stuff. They are bought into we have to do team things on both ends. We don’t have any superstars. Most of them are returners that were with us last. They have been battle tested. They won a lot of big games last year.”
The coach was happy with the way the defense performed in building the double-digit lead.
"Oklahoma Wesleyan has some really good weapons," he said. "If you don't play well defensively, its shows right away because they are making shots."
Siebenthall said Wednesday’s contest was a showcase NAIA game.
“What this showed was the level of basketball in the KCAC,” he said. “For the first conference game, that is two teams clicking on all cylinders. That was two pretty good teams going at it. It was a good win for our program.”
Darryl Bowie came off the bench to fire in a career-high 30 points. Jaquan Daniels finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Ryan Haskins and Jackson Mallory netted 13 points each.