By: Andrew Korba
Picked to finish last in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC), it's safe to say the Hiram College men's basketball team exceeded expectations in the 2015-16 season. Hiram posted a 19-8 overall record, which was the most wins for the program since the 1973-74 season. The Terriers also finished third in the conference, going 12-6.
The Terriers opened the campaign by taking on Division I foe Akron. Hiram suffered a loss to the Zips, but rebounded to win three straight, including the Buzz Ridl Classic title at Westminster (Pa.).
The conference season go off to a rough start as the Terriers suffered a 71-67 setback at Allegheny (Pa.). Hiram would respond with its first conference win of the season, an 88-78 victory at Kenyon.
Sitting at 1-1 in the NCAC, Hiram welcomed fourth ranked Ohio Wesleyan to Price Gymnasium. In a wild contest, sophomore Kelvin Jones (Sheffield Lake, Ohio/Brookside) converted a putback with two seconds left to give the Terriers a thrilling 74-72 win over the Battling Bishops.
The Terriers kept the momentum, reeling off six straight wins, including a title at the McDonald's of Bluffton Holiday Tournament and a NCAC road win at Wittenberg, to push their record to 11-2 overall.
Hiram would hit a rough patch, losing three consecutive conference games, before rebounding home victories over Kenyon and Allegheny.
Ohio Wesleyan would get revenge on the Terriers by protecting their home court, but Hiram answered with four straight wins, which included a win over Wooster, which snapped a 36-game losing streak to the Fighting Scots.
The Terriers closed out the regular season with a home win over Wittenberg on Senior Day.
By finishing 12-6 in the conference, Hiram was seeded third in the NCAC Tournament. The Terriers jumped out to a 21-4 lead over sixth seeded Kenyon in the NCAC Tournament Quarterfinals, only to see the Lords come all the way back and take a seven point lead with just over five minutes to play. Hiram stormed back with a 13-0 run in a little over three minutes to retake the lead. The Terriers never looked back en route to a 95-87 win and the first NCAC Tournament win in program history.
Hiram's season would draw to a close in the NCAC Tournament Semifinals at the hands of No. 2 seed Wooster by a 92-79 score.
Head Coach Chris Kibler was named NCAC Coach of the Year by his peers for the strong season. Kibler became the first coach in program history to win a conference Coach of the Year award.
Senior J.J. Woodson (Oakwood Village, Ohio/Bedford) was named Second Team All-NCAC for the second straight season. Woodson averaged 16.6 ppg, which lead the team and was fifth in the league. In addition, he finished with 57 steals, which was third most in single season history. He concludes his career with a 12.4 ppg scoring average.
Jones earned Honorable Mention All-NCAC honors. He nearly averaged a double-double, scoring at a 10.2 ppg clip and pulling down a team-best 9.7 rpg. He also led the team with 10 double-doubles on the season. In addition, Jones pulled down a total of 251 rebounds, which ranked fourth in single season history.
Sophomore Paul Ortiz (Canton, Ohio/McKinley Senior) joined the team as a transfer and made his presence felt right away. Ortiz turned into a viable scoring option, averaging 13.5 ppg and shooting 41.3 percent from the field.
The Terriers also bid farewell to two other seniors. Ray Gaston (Warren, Ohio/John F. Kennedy) averaged a career-high 6.5 ppg. He posted a monster game in Hiram's win over Wooster, finishing with 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. Austen Rekolt (Salem, Ohio/West Branch) averaged a career-high 5.4 ppg, while dishing out a career-best 66 assists.
While replacing three seniors will be tough, the recent success of the Hiram College men's basketball program gives it a bright future. The 2015-16 season is one that will be remembered and is laying the groundwork for the direction the program is heading.