The John Brown Golden Eagles have faced a lot of adversity this season, as did every team attempting to play college basketball during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, there was a very positive mood around Bill George Arena on Saturday, Feb. 20 as the basketball teams played their final regular season games on Senior Day.
Coming to town was the Stars from Oklahoma City University. It was the first game for the OCU women in February, as they had only played three games heading into the night. Meanwhile, the OCU men struggled to earn only two wins in seven games going into the game, though one of those wins was against JBU at Abe Lemons Arena.
The day kicked off with the women’s game. The JBU women took on the 14th-ranked Stars, and after falling into an early hole as OCU started the game on a 8-0 run, the Golden Eagles spent most of the game trying to crawl their way back. A big 12-2 scoring run to open the 4th quarter gave the Golden Eagles a solid six-point lead with just under four minutes to go, and the Golden Eagles were within striking distance of winning their first game against the Stars since 2014, and only their sixth win all-time against them as a program.
However, the Stars finished the game on a 9-1 scoring run behind back-to-back three-pointers from Mallory Lockhart and a layup from Erika Ankney. The Golden Eagles had the ball last, but Taylor Fergen missed what would have been the game-winning three-pointer as time expired. Fergen, the only senior on the women’s basketball team, finished the game with 22 points, tied with Tarrah Stephens for the team lead. Fergen also had nine rebounds and four assists. The win put the Stars at 4-0 on the season, while the loss was the second straight for JBU, dropping them to 5-5 overall and 5-4 in SAC play. The record, however, was good enough to put JBU in the SAC Conference Tournament, after missing it last season.
“The one thing that’s happened this week with the weather is that a lot of SAC teams haven’t played. They had the week off,” JBU women’s basketball head coach Jeff Soderquist said about the Golden Eagles getting two games in, despite the winter weather, in the week leading up to the conference tournament. “We were able to fit two games in against two really good teams, and that could give us some momentum. As other teams have sat around, we’ve been playing, and so I look for that to be an advantage.”
The Senior Day ceremony took place between the women’s and men’s games. The women’s basketball team honored Taylor Fergen, who has been one of the team’s leaders through all of the adversity the Golden Eagles have faced this season.
“She’s the hardest worker in practice and on the floor,” Soderquist said about Fergen. “She plays so hard, and I’m so proud of her. She’s led this team well through all of the hard stuff this season.”
The JBU men tipped off against the Stars looking to avenge their 75-74 loss from Jan. 30. The game opened with student assistant Aaron Kerr, who was honored at the Senior Day ceremony, getting the start and scoring the first basket for JBU. After that, the Golden Eagles proceeded to play one of their best-ever halves of basketball in the first half, as they went to the locker room with a 48-28 lead, with the highlight being a 16-1 run over a 4:29 span late in the first half. While the second half was a little better for the Stars, as they scored 46 points (with 26 being in transition), the John Brown Golden Eagles were able to take a blowout win over OCU, by a score of 98-74.
Luke Harper scored 25 points, Densier Carnes added 17 and Brenton Toussaint scored 11. The win bumped JBU to 7-6 on the season overall and put them back at .500 in SAC play at 6-6. The loss ended the OCU Stars’ season with a 2-6 record, the second straight losing season for the six-time NAIA Champions. “We’ve got a really high level of belief right now that we’re doing the right things that are going to get us better and lead to us having a chance to be successful out there,” JBU men’s basketball head coach Jason Beschta said about the team’s mindset nearing the end of the season, “I think we really have that mindset of ‘we’re just trying to get better every day’ still.”
Photo by Karen Penner