Despite an up and down season, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College men's basketball team closed out the season on a hot streak as the Cougars won six of their final eight games to finish with an 18-15 overall record.
"When standards have been set so high, you may have to face disappointment when they are not reached," said head coach Scott Flemming, who had led the team to four straight 20-win seasons and three consecutive NAIA Division II National Tournaments heading into the season. "Many teams go through cycles, but we have avoided that at least the past four years. With graduating the last of our four (NAIA Division II) All-Americans, having our most difficult schedule ever, and only having one senior, some transition was probably expected."
MVNC began the year by winning the annual Cougar Homecoming Classic with two victories. Sophomore Matt Taylor was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, and he was joined on the all-tournament team by senior Matt Keller and junior Kenny Chaffin.
Following a pair of losses at the NCCAA East Region Classic, the team knocked off Denison University and Kenyon College in non-conference games before falling at the University of Rio Grande in the Cougars' American Mideast Conference opener.
MVNC rebounded by winning the annual Food for the Hungry Holiday Invitational with two victories. Chaffin was selected as the tournament's MVP, while junior Lenny Foyer and sophomore Phil Argento made the all-tournament team.
After winning two of their next three games, the Cougars took their 8-4 record to Palm Beach Atlantic College in West Palm Beach, Florida, for two games against NAIA Division I nationally-ranked teams. MVNC dropped both games as the team's record moved to 8-6.
Upon returning north, the Cougars lost seven of their next 11 games to find their record at 12-13. The team was in danger of not making the AMC Tournament and posting their first losing record in six years.
However, MVNC did not give in down the stretch as the Cougars won their final five games of the regular season to improve their record to 17-13. Three of the five victories came on the road, while the other two wins were home games versus Ohio Dominican College and Walsh University.
With the wins, MVNC earned the fifth seed in the AMC Tournament. The Cougars traveled to fourth-seeded Geneva College in the first round and avenged an earlier two-point loss to the Golden Tornadoes with a convincing 81-64 victory.
The team advanced to the tournament semifinals to face top-seeded University of Rio Grande, the 12th-ranked team in NAIA Division II, on the Redmen's home court. Despite a valiant effort, the Cougars fell 111-100 to the AMC regular-season champions who went on to advance to the NAIA Division II National Tournament Final Four.
MVNC closed out the year with a hard-fought 78-70 loss at Geneva in the National Christian College Athletic Association East Region championship game as the Cougars finished one win away from advancing to the NCCAA National Tournament.
Several players had outstanding seasons. Chaffin was named to the AMC First Team after averaging a team-high 22.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He also broke the school's single-season records for points (730) and field goals made (284), and he blocked a team-high 57 shots.
Keller wrapped up a stellar career by leading the team in assists (183) and free throw percentage (89.3 percent). He was an AMC Honorable Mention selection.
"I feel bad that we were not able to get Matt back to his fourth NAIA Division II National Tournament," said Flemming of the team's lone senior who played in a school-record 134 games in his career. "He has been an integral part of several championships and many wins."
Argento joined Keller on the AMC Honorable Mention list after averaging 16.0 points and nailing a team-high 108 three-pointers. Junior Andy Gast (11.9 points per game), sophomore Konrod Morris (9.2 points per game), Foyer (6.8 points per game), and Taylor (6.2 points per game) also contributed heavily to the team's success.
"For much of the season, our team was very inconsistent," said Flemming. "However, I am very proud of the way we finished the year playing as well as anyone in our conference. We played with confidence and we were very focused. To finish with a winning record within our conference is a great accomplishment in itself. With a good nucleus back, I believe we can be optimistic for next season."