The Ottawa University men’s basketball team’s culture will be the sustaining factor of success.
The Braves’ five returning seniors from last year’s NAIA tourney team set the table for the new players to follow.
"We are passing it down," Ottawa coach Aaron Siebenthall said. "What it says is a lot about our culture and the returners. What they have been demanding of the new guys. This is how we do things here. Either you get on board and it will be fun or if you don’t you won’t get a chance to play.
"Last year was kind of fun. We would like to do it again. We know the formula. Let’s keep it simple."
The No. 14 Braves used that simple formula of unselfish basketball and playing together in their season-opening 106-80 victory Monday over Barclay College in Wilson Field House.
Since the 2018-19 season, Ottawa is 27-4 on Andy Carrier Court inside Wilson Field House. Siebenthall credits the atmosphere inside the arena from the Ottawa students and staff. The student side of the arena was full and loud in the opener.
"What an amazing crowd for it being our OU community only," Siebenthall said. "That was amazing to see that turn out. That fueled our guys. We really appreciate that."
The coaches and players were thrilled to be playing under the pandemic circumstances. Preseason practices were interrupted because of COVID-19 concerns on campus.
"We have had about half the practices we should have by this time," Siebenthall said. "I am thrilled for our guys to get back out there. There is so much uncertainty. You don’t know what is going on in the world with teams quarantining and everything else."
The coaching staff liked how the players performed in the opener. Ottawa shot out to a big lead and substituted liberally.
Ottawa shot 54.9 percent from the floor and received 39 points off the bench. Ottawa finished with 27 assists.
"Proud of our guys as they continued to share the ball and play for each other," Siebenthall said. "Our new guys really stepped up. We have some good weapons. When we start meshing and get on the same page, we have a chance to be pretty good again.
"There are lots of ways to [win] basketball games. What we believe in is the ball will find the open guy and usually that guy will make shots."
Senior guard Joe Johnson III led the Braves with a career-best 22 points. Jaquan Daniels had 21 points, seven rebounds, two assists, three blocks, and two steals.
Senior transfer guard Perry Carroll came off the bench to toss in 16 points. He also had seven rebounds, five assists, one block, and two steals. Andre Jackson finished with 11 points, four rebounds, five assists, and five steals. Mason McDow led Ottawa with seven assists.
Siebenthall said Carroll, a Ottawa native, felt right at home in a Braves uniform.
"It has been seamless [transition]," Siebenthall said. "He is going to be a really, really good addition for us. He can play multiple positions. He is in between Jackson Mallory, who is a pass-first guy, and Darryl Bowie, who is way more of a scorer. Perry can score when he needs to."
Ottawa (1-0) plays 8 p.m. Thursday at home against rival Baker.