Bradynn Belcher, Campus Carrier staff writer
The Berry men’s basketball team endured an excruciating loss on Sunday against Sewanee: The University of the South in the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) conference championship. The 86-82 loss marked the end of the Vikings’ 2022-2023 season.
Until last Sunday, the Vikings, who were looking to win the SAA conference basketball tournament for the third year in a row, had not lost a game to Sewanee since the 2019-2020 season. During the regular season, Berry swept Sewanee twice, on Jan. 13 with a score of 75-62 and on Feb. 10 with a score of 85-67.
Junior Chase Ellis, the lead scorer on the team roster, said the fact that his team had not lost to Sewanee since he has been a part of this program made the loss sting that much more.
“Sewanee played a really good game,” Ellis said. “We fought through it until the end, and we missed some free throws down the stretch. It was a great game, but at the end of the day I wish we did the small things in order to win.”
Since Sewanee won the conference tournament, they secured a spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III tournament.
Although Berry was ranked #22 in the nation as of Feb. 20 by D3hoops.com, the Vikings were unable to secure one of the division’s 20 at-large bids into the national tournament to continue their postseason run.
Last Sunday not only marked the end of the 2022-23 season for the men’s basketball team, but it also ended their three-year winning streak in the Cage Athletic Center. The last time the Vikings lost in their home gym was on Feb. 9, 2020, against Sewanee.
Members of the team have used this loss as motivation to get working towards next season. Ellis said that his teammates already met the day after their season ended to practice together.
“It is frustrating to go back to the gym that you just lost in, but you have to do what you have to do to prepare for next year,” Ellis said.
Despite the abrupt ending, the 2022-23 season has been historic for the men’s basketball team. For the first time in the school history, the Vikings went 14-0 in SAA conference play in the regular season. This is also the first time in program history that the men’s team has defeated Emory University.
Senior captain Riley Costas said that the win against Emory was by far his favorite game this year because of what it meant for the program.
“We beat Emory at Emory, and that was probably my favorite game this year,” Costas said. “It was a big win for our team and our program.”
The team accumulated numerous accolades this season. Ellis, who led the team by averaging 15.6 points per game, seven rebounds per game and making 44% of his three-point attempts on the season, was announced as the SAA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.
Braxton Benham was awarded the SAA Defensive Player of the Year award for stellar defense throughout the season, averaging 2.2 steals per game.
Among these accolades, four players earned conference Honorable Mentions: junior Blake Campbell, Costas, fellow senior captain Owen Honroth and graduate student Michael Johnson
Assistant Coach Matthew Richter has seen all these players grow and develop since their high school recruiting process with Berry, despite a one-year hiatus. Richter said that watching the team grow into young men on and off the court has been rewarding.
“It has been rewarding to see these players develop and grow both on and off the court, especially some of our older guys,” Richter said. “Seeing them go through their whole careers has been really cool and watching them gain confidence as players and as people has been awesome.”
Men’s basketball head coach Mick Hedgepeth, who came to Berry last summer, was voted SAA Coach of the Year for having such a successful first season. Hedgepeth credited his success as head coach to the players that he inherited into his program.
“Good players make good coaches, first and foremost,” Hedgepeth said. “Taking over a talented group who have been there and know what it is like to play in big games and win in big games is great. They have championship DNA.”
Hedgepeth said that he is proud of his player’s approach each day and of their ability to not become complacent, whether they win or lose on the court.
“I think that our guys, from being a mature and veteran group, have done a really good job of being hungry each day and bringing a growth mentality every day at practice,” Hedgepeth said.