By Blake Moore
ADA — The Ohio Northern men's basketball team developed a young, inexperienced roster with valuable playing opportunities during the 2018-19 campaign under third-year head coach Rich Bensman, building the foundation to a bright future for the ONU basketball program.
This season, the Polar Bears posted a 7-18 overall record and a 3-15 mark in the Ohio Athletic Conference, finishing in a two-way tie for ninth in the final league standings with Otterbein.
"Our season did not go as expected. However, we started to play better towards the end of the year," Bensman noted. "We had several young guards who not only had to play significant minutes, but who were also asked to start due to injuries. Our young guys did a good job staying engaged and working hard to get better."
"We faced a lot of adversity - our players did a good job adjusting, and we had great leadership from our seniors and captains, making sure our players kept working hard, had energy, and stayed together throughout the season."
During the 2018-19 campaign, the Polar Bears got off to a hot start with back-to-back nonconference wins over area-rival Defiance and in-state foe Denison inside the ONU Sports Center. Northern rolled past DC 99-61 before knocking off the Big Red 86-66.
Following tight-knit losses to Hope (Mich.) and No. 21-ranked Wooster, Ohio Northern rose to 3-2 on the season after freshman Daniel Unruh (Elida) drilled a buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat Thomas More (Ky.) 65-62 on November 28.
In December, the Polar Bears dropped their first five conference contests before appearing in the 2018 D3hoops.com Classic in Las Vegas, Nevada. ONU battled Linfield (Ore.) to a 75-57 loss in the opener, but rebounded for an impressive 63-61 victory over North Central (Ill.).
Later, Ohio Northern won three of their final four contests, knocking off Otterbein, Heidelberg, and Muskingum to conclude the season with a 7-18 overall record.
"We played a tough nonconference schedule this season," Bensman remarked. "We stayed right with Wooster, played a great game at Hope, and beat North Central out in Las Vegas. It was definitely a challenge, but I thought we played well during those games."
"The OAC was solid top-to-bottom. You have to come ready to play because there are no nights off in this league. This is a great conference, and it definitely showed this year."
Senior center Ryan Bruns (Chickasaw/Marion Local) headlined the 2018-19 award recipients after garnering D3hoops.com Second-Team All-America, D3hoops.com and NABC First-Team All-Great Lakes Region, and All-OAC First-Team honors. In addition, the Chickasaw native was tabbed to the D3hoops.com Preseason First-Team All-America, the D3hoops.com Classic All-Tournament Team, and named OAC Player of the Week three times this season.
The senior also received an invite to appear in the NABC Reece's NCAA Division III West vs. East All-Star Game at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Under legendary ONU coaches Joe Campoli and Gale Daugherty, Bruns led the West All-Stars to a 104-101 victory over the East All-Stars after scoring a game-high 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Bruns led Ohio Northern and the OAC with 21.0 points per game (524 total points) in a league-high 32.9 minutes per game during his final campaign. He also paced the team with 61 blocked shots and 8.8 rebounds per contest, which ranked first and third in the conference, respectively. The senior added 29 assists and 25 steals to the Polar Bear efforts.
Following a stellar senior season, Bruns will graduate fourth on ONU's all-time scoring list with 1,686 career points. In addition, he owns the program record with 250 career blocked shots and ranks third in made field goals (643), fifth in made free throws (366), seventh in field goal percentage (.551), and 11th in rebounding (723) at Ohio Northern.
Bruns leaves the program a two-time D3hoops.com All-America honoree, a 2017-18 NABC Second-Team All-America selection, a three-time All-OAC recipient, and the 2017-18 OAC Player of the Year. He was named OAC Player of the Week five times during his standout career.
Four players were named Academic All-OAC for their efforts in the classroom this season. Senior guards Sean Grady (Willowick/Eastlake North) and Austin Wurm (Bloomville/Buckeye Central), junior forward Caleb Bryan (Pittsburgh, Pa./Montour), and junior guard Wes Davenport (Downers Grove, Ill./South) were each honored with the award.
To receive Academic All-OAC honors, student-athletes must be a sophomore-or-higher in academic standing, maintain varsity-level status during the season, and hold a minimum 3.50 cumulative grade-point average.
Grady, a senior accounting major, received his third consecutive academic honor from the conference.
In the 2018-19 campaign, he appeared in 12 games at the point guard position, averaging 13.4 minutes and 1.5 points per game off the bench.
During his four-year career, Grady competed in 37 games and scored 38 total points.
Wurm was named Academic All-OAC for the second time in his Ohio Northern career with the announcement.
The civil engineering major played in nine games with one start this season, scoring 17 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Bryan, a junior civil engineering major, also garnered his second consecutive academic award.
The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania product appeared in all 25 games this season with two starts, averaging 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Meanwhile, Davenport made his first appearance on the Academic All-OAC squad.
The junior sport management major played in two games this season, registering five minutes of playing time.
When looking ahead to the 2019-20 campaign, Bensman and the Polar Bears are optimistic for the program's future.
"Our recruiting class is shaping up to be a good one. We are excited to welcome in our new players and look forward to how they will contribute with our existing players."