Bid to return to national tournament ends with loss to Salt Lake CC
Many coaches working with what EU men's basketball coach Brad Barton had to work with would have called it a rebuilding year. It was Barton's first season as head coach and he only had one true returning player for last year's squad and one reserve player to fill his roster. Team recruiting was done by his predecessor and what he had for players was what he had.
But Barton never had one minute of doubt that his group of talent could gel into a team that would be a contender. And they did give it a great ride until their season ended in the second round of the Region 18 tournament at the hands of Salt Lake Community College with an 86-72 loss.
EU got to the second round with a bye for finishing second in Scenic West Athletic Conference play this season. They were an eyelash from being region champs as they lost in double overtime to CSI. Now instead of facing off against NIC, they had to take on the Bruins of Salt Lake. Each battle with them had come down to the final minutes of play and EU owned the series with two of three wins.
Another battle began on Friday afternoon and it was close to even as the teams broke for the locker room with the score 39-38. But then EU struggled from the line and missed critical free throws while Salt Lake made 11. EU only managed to make 29 percent from the field in the final period as well as the Bruins began scorching the net with close to 50 percent shooting.
Jonathan Mills finished his EU career with one final double-double with 13 points and 19 rebounds. Maxim Zakharov led all scorers with 28 points. Mills was the SWAC leading rebounder averaging over 10 a game.
"Despite not making it to the championship, it was a very successful season," stated coach Barton. "We were one second away from the SWAC championship. Even in our final game I though the effort was good. We had 12 less free throw attempts and only made half of what we had. A lot of breaks didn't go our way. This is a tough league and even when you are playing well you need to have some good fortune to help out."
The double overtime loss to CSI for the conference title was probably the hardest game for the team but Barton used it as a teaching tool for his players. He reminded them that they needed to learn from all the good and bad that happens and apply it to their lives.
"It was one of those games they can grow from." he added.
When asked about next season and if he was coming back he enthusiastically replied, "Heck yeah! For as long as they will have me. I have a chip on my shoulder now, because I knew we could have gone all the way and I am motivated to do better. We had the best recruiting class year last season and it was made easier by the success the last team had. I feel we are already ahead of that this season and we will have another great team hit the floor next year."