By Caleb Scott
ADA — In just his second year as head coach of the Ohio Northern men's basketball program, Rich Bensman had the Polar Bears vying for an Ohio Athletic Conference in 2017-18.
Despite being picked to finish sixth in the Ohio Athletic Conference coaches preseason poll prior to the season, Northern posted its best season in 11 years on its way to a trip to the OAC Tournament Championship game.
The Polar Bears finished the season with a 19-9 record, its most wins since the 2006-07 ONU men's basketball team compiled 19 wins. Northern gave a solid effort in the OAC regular season race, finishing third in the conference standings with a 12-6 mark in the OAC.
Victories over Capital and nationally-ranked Marietta propelled the Polar Bears to the OAC Tournament Championship game, where they fell to John Carroll.
The Polar Bears saw three athletes earn All-Ohio Athletic Conference honors in 2017-18, led by junior Ryan Bruns' (Chickasaw/Marion Local) OAC Player of the Year and First Team All-OAC nods. Senior Nate Burger (Dayton/Alter) was also a First team All-OAC pick and senior Joey DiOrio (Columbus/Watterson) was an Honorable mention All-Conference selection.
Bruns' honors continued to come in as he was dubbed a First Team All-Great Lakes Region honoree by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and by D3Hoops.com. The two organizations also named Bruns a Second Team All-American for his efforts during the 2017-18 season.
He was second on the team, third in the OAC and 12th nationally in scoring at 24.0 ppg this year. The junior also led the team and the OAC and was 13th nationally with an ONU single-season junior record 65 blocked shots and was second in the league, averaging a team-best 8.7 rebounds per game.
He is ONU's all-time career blocked shots leader with 189 and currently ranks 26th all-time at ONU with 1,162 career points.
Bruns is the first All-American in men's basketball since Kyle Meyer in 2010 and is the 12th All-American in ONU men's basketball history.
Burger earned his first All-Conference honor after being named First Team All-OAC.
The senior led the team, ranked second in the OAC and eighth nationally with 24.8 points per contest.
Burger broke Northern's all-time single season scoring record (694 points in 2017-18) and became the 39th member of ONU's 1,000-point club after tallying his 1,000th-career point this season.
DiOrio also earned his first career all-conference nod after being named Honorable Mention All-OAC.
The senior started all 28 games for ONU and ranked third on the team with 12.8 points per contest. He led the team and was fifth in the OAC, shooting .443 from 3-point range. DiOrio ended his career as one of the most prolific shooters from 3-point range, shooting .454 from beyond the arc during his career which ranks third all-time at ONU.
DiOrio was also named Div. III First Team Academic All-District by the College Sports Information Directors of America and was one of six Polar Bears to be named Academic All-OAC in 2017-18.
Also earning Academic All-Conference honors were seniors Max Harnett (Kettering/Alter) and Alex Sibila (Zionsville, Ind.), junior Sean Grady (Willowick/Eastlake North) and sophomores Caleb Bryan (Pittsburgh, Pa./Montour) and Austin Wurm (Bloomville/Buckeye Central).
After losing two of its first four contests, Northern posted an impressive 6-1 record in December to cap off the 2017 and enter 2018 on a high note.
From there, Northern would finish the season winning nine of its last 14 regular season contests and earning the No. 3 seed in the OAC Tournament, where it advanced to the tournament finals.