After a breakthrough year for the Oklahoma Baptist men's basketball program in 2018-19, the Bison are poised to make even larger strides in 2019-20.
OBU ended the season with a 16-14 record and finished 14-8 in the Great American Conference, good enough for a third-place tie in the regular-season standings. It was their best campaign since joining the NCAA Division II ranks from NAIA.
Ironically, the Bison were only 3-9 in games decided by two possessions or less, but showed steady improvement as the season went along, particularly in conference play.
“The one thing I was most proud of last year is that we lost a couple of key players and still found a way to overcome and win,” said OBU second-year head coach Jason Eaker.
Under Eaker's direction, the Bison are happy to have three players who owned double-figure scoring averages last season and should benefit this year from the services of NCAA Division I graduate transfer Rashad Lewis.
Lewis, a projected starter last season and transfer from Mercer University, suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder and was sidelined.
“We have three returning starters back, but really four if you count Rashad,” said Eaker about the 5-foot, 9-inch combo guard who missed last year due to a torn labrum.
“He can score and handle it and is one of the best on-the-ball defenders I've coached,” Eaker said.
The Bison also welcome back the starting trio of Harrison Stoddart, Brantly Thompson and Dishon Lowery.
Stoddart, a 6-7, junior out of Edmond North High School, sported 12.0 scoring and 4.6 rebounding averages last year for OBU. For the season, he shot 51 percent from the floor (ninth in the GAC), 41.5 from 3-point land (ninth) and 81.5 percent from the free-throw line (fifth).
A 6-4 junior guard from Tuttle, Thompson tallied 11.3 points per outing last season while averaging 4.2 boards
Lowery, a 6-7 senior, was second in field-goal percentage (61.6 percent) and third in rebounding (7.8 per game) in the GAC while averaging 10.2 points a season ago. Lowery transferred in from Division I Wofford College, prior to last season.
Another returnee is 6-7 sophomore Mohammed Abubakar, who scored 5.4 points per game and grabbed 4.4 rebounds while shooting 60 percent from the field overall in his rookie season.
“Mohammed got better as the year went along,” said Eaker. “To finish off the year against Southeastern's (Kevin) Buckingham (in the semifinals of the GAC Tournament), Mohammed played just 21 minutes and had 16 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 8-of-11 from the field. I think he was the best freshman in the league.”
Eaker expects to heavily rely on 6-4 junior guard Jaquan Simms and 5-7 senior graduate transfer from North Carolina-Wilmington.
Simms earned all-conference accolades at Limestone Community College in South Carolina where he averaged 16.6 points and connected on 85 percent of his free throws (115-of-134). He had eight games in which he scored 20 points or more, including 29 twice.
Brown appeared in three games last season at UNC-Wilmington and averaged 3.3 points an outing.
Eaker also believes big contributions can be made from 6-3 senior guard Caleb Norris and 6-3 freshman guard Jarius Hicklen.
“We're deep and experienced in our backcourt,” Eaker said.
OBU PICKED THIRD: The Bison have been picked third in the GAC Preseason Poll behind Southern Nazarene and Southeastern. “Our goal is to compete for a conference championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament,” said Eaker.
ABOUT THE SCHEDULE: The Bison face Nebraska-Kearney, Wayne State, Tarleton State, Rogers State and the University of Central Oklahoma among non-conference action. “Our schedule is borderline ridiculous (as far as toughness),” Eaker said. The Bison will play a home exhibition against Oklahoma City University tonight at 7 p.m. in the Noble Complex and then officially open the 2019-20 season at home with a four-team classic called the Bison Conference Challenge on Nov. 8-9. East Central University takes on Wayne State at 5:30 p.m. and OBU battles Nebraska-Kearney at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 8. Then on Saturday, Nov. 9, ECU squares off with Nebraska-Kearney at 5:30 p.m. and the Bison tangle with Wayne State at 7:30. When OBU takes on UCO on Dec. 17 in Edmond it will pit Eaker against his coaching mentor, legendary OBU coach and alumnus Bob Hoffman. Eaker was an assistant under Hoffman at Mercer. Hoffman will be in his first season coaching the Bronchos, who are members of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).
EAKER PRAISES OBU ATHLETICS: “OBU, in the next couple of months, will be getting a new president. The football program is making strides under coach Chris Jensen. We have one of the best track coaches in Ford Mastin,” said Eaker. “It's an exciting time to be at OBU. There is a lot of momentum with the quality of men's and women's coaches we've got here. I feel like steam is gathering.”