Braves fighting for spot in national tournament

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

The Ottawa University men’s basketball team’s goal is still the same as it was entering the season.

The Braves are playing to gain a spot in the NAIA National Tournament. Ottawa coach Aaron Siebenthall said that goal never changes.

Ottawa University senior Perry Carroll was one of six Braves in double figures in the win over Bethel. His outback off an offensive rebound at the buzzer gave Ottawa a 92-91 victory.

Ottawa’s only chance of qualifying for the big dance is to win the conference tournament.

“We dug ourselves a hole early,” Siebenthall said. “We have to set our ourselves up in the best position possible to do that. We are trying to peak at the right time. We are trending up. Guys have bought into their roles. We are playing for a high seed. We are playing for home games. What we are really playing for is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year.”

Ottawa (14-7, 11-7) is in a battle with McPherson (13-8) and Southwestern (10-7) for the third seed with three games remaining.

Siebenthall expects exciting, tight games like those played Wednesday to continue into the tournament. Ottawa nipped No. 18 Bethel, 92-91, on a buzzer-beating putback by Perry Carroll. Sterling edged McPherson by one with a late bucket.

“It is an expanded tournament with 12 teams getting in,” Siebenthall said. ‘It is going to be crazy.”

The win over conference-leading Bethel was huge for the Braves. It was an intense battle to the buzzer.

“That was two teams really going at it,” Siebenthall said. “A lot of big plays on both ends. Guys making big shots. If we played five or 10 more seconds, it might be a different outcome.

“Lucky for us, we made a good hustle, toughness play at the end.”

Ottawa dug deep for the win as Bethel took an 88-80 lead with three minutes remaining.

“You can’t say enough about our guys on how they stuck with it, stuck together,” Siebenthall said. “We kept battling. We could have easily given up and we did not. Hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

Ottawa finishes the regular season with home games against Bethany and Sterling and a season-ending showdown with McPherson.

“Saturday is a huge game because it is the next one,” Siebenthall said. “We have to come and get ready for Bethany. York proved to us, anybody can beat anybody in this league.”

The Braves used a balanced attack to nip Bethel. Ottawa placed six players in double figures.

Juquan Daniels led Ottawa with 21 points. Ian Moore had 19 points and three steals. Ty Bland netted 17 points. Carroll finished with 13 points and six assists. Andre Jackson and Jackson Mallory chipped in 10 points each.