Coach Erickson reflects on 2016-2017 basketball season
Preparing for Saturday’s Region IX play-in game against Sheridan, Northwest College men’s basketball head coach Brian Erickson had reason to be optimistic.
After all, the two teams had met twice during the regular season, each winning on its home floor; NWC’s win came in a triple-OT performance last month that fans will be talking about for years. Despite a loss to the Generals a week ago to end the regular season, Erickson knew his team matched up well.
“I told them, ‘Look, you guys know this team, you know what they’re about,’” Erickson said. “You need to go out and leave it all on the floor.”
NWC did just that, finishing the game leading in every statistical category except the one that would extend their season: The score. Unable to get shots to fall in the final minutes, the Generals held on for a hard-fought 62-58 win, ending the Trappers’ season.
“It was a good game, I thought we had a really good game plan going in,” Erickson said. “We put in a new offense we had run a bit in the past — one they weren’t ready for. The guys carried it out, and I think we out-played them in every area. We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole in the second half.”
The Trappers jumped out to a quick 12-6 lead to begin the game behind a pair of 3-pointers by Sukhjot Bains and aggressive play underneath the basket by Levi Londole. Sheridan fought back, bringing the game to within a point at 20-19 before NWC busted out with a 11-0 run for their biggest lead of the game, 31-19. Luc Lombardy hit a pair of 3-pointers for the Trappers during that stretch, with Damon Leach adding four points to the mix. The Generals then went on a small run of their own, scoring five straight points to end the half at 31-24. The Trappers were playing strong, fundamental basketball on both sides of the floor.
“Defensively, we would run a half-court trap, then fall back into man, then fall back again to a zone,” Erickson said. “We switched things up, and I think Sheridan was really confused. I talked to their assistant after the game, and he told me ‘We didn’t know what to do.’”
The second half began with Sheridan continuing to chip away at NWC’s lead, taking advantage of the Trappers’ suddenly cold shooting to pull within a point, 41-40, at the midway point.
“That second half, we just weren’t making shots,” Erickson said. “We told them if the ball’s not going to go in the hole, you have to make stops. We just didn’t do a good enough job of that. As bad as we weren’t getting the ball in the hole, we weren’t getting stops either.”
Sheridan took its first lead of the game with just under eight minutes to play on a Channel Banks 3-pointer, 48-47. A bucket by Marshall McArthur and a pair of free throws by Jonathan Koud gave the lead back to the Trappers, but the Generals continued to answer, re-taking the lead on a Xavier Jackson basket, 54-53.
The final three minutes went back-and-forth, with Londole hitting a shot to give the Trappers their final lead at 55-54. Jackson scored the next five points for the Generals as NWC’s shot woes continued. Blake Hinze drained a 3-pointer with seven seconds to play for the Trappers to make it a one-score game, but a costly foul put Sheridan on the line for the game’s final point, capping the 62-58 win.
“It was disappointing, but I’m really proud of the team,” Erickson said. “They left it all out there. The effort, the energy, it was all there. They did it right. Those things that you usually think are going to win a game, we did all of them. We just didn’t shoot it well in the second half.”
Bains made his final game as a Trapper a memorable one, recording his third straight double-double with 16 points and 15 rebounds, as well as a team-high four assists. Fellow sophomore Londole followed with 15 points, while Damon Leach closed out his Trappers career with eight points and 11 boards.
Lombardy and McArthur netted six points apiece, followed by Koud and Hinze with three.
The Generals finished with just one player in double figures, as Jackson finished the night with 18 points to go along with eight boards.
The Trappers finished with five 3-pointers, and out-rebounded Sheridan 47-32. NWC shot 84 percent on free throws, 22 percent on 3-point shots and 30 percent from the field, compared to Sheridan’s 47 percent on free throws, 38 percent on 3-point shots and 43 percent from the field.
Looking back on 2016-2017
Though the bus ride home was a long one, Coach Erickson said it gave him and the team time to reflect on the journey that was the 2016-2017 season.
“It was a really fun year,” he said. “This was a great, great group to coach. We weren’t all that talented or athletic, but man, they just left it out there.”
The worst thing about losing the last game of the season wasn’t that the season was over or that the Trappers lost, at least for their coach.
“For me, the most disappointing thing is I’m not going to have another opportunity to coach this same group of guys,” Erickson said. “These guys are never going to have the same opportunity to play together again. That’s always the most disappointing thing about the end of each year.”
The Trappers will lose seven sophomores, including three red shirt sophomores — Seth Bennett, Damon Leach and Skyler Zabriskie — who’ve been with Erickson for three seasons.
“This is my fifth year, and they’ve been here for more than half of it,” Erickson said. “They’re the type of guys we build our program around — their culture and character. They’ve been through a lot, they were redshirts when we won the championship. I’m pretty proud of those three, you always miss guys like that.”
The Canadian trio of Bains, Londole and Jonathan Koud were all over 300 points for the season, and Erickson said what they brought to the team on and off the court will be missed.
“Those three did a great job for us here,” he said. “They’ve grown into what we do as a program, and I think all of them are going to be great wherever they move on to next.”
Looking toward next season, Erickson said he’d like to see Powell natives Carter Baxter and Marshall McArthur back for the Trappers, though with both graduating in the spring, they may be ready to move on.
“They haven’t decided yet what they’re going to do, but I’d love to have them back,” Erickson said. “We haven’t had Powell kids in a long time, so to have a couple of them represent Powell and NWC has been a great experience, for us and them.”
As Erickson and his staff continue to recruit with an eye toward next season, he hopes the returning freshmen will step up to fill the void left by those moving on.
“We’re going to miss the guys we lose,” Erickson said. “A lot of it just goes to the type of kids that they are. We’re going to miss them on the basketball court, I was proud of all of them for how they fought every day.”