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College basketball: Statesmen hoops looks to regroup

Mar. 8—OSKALOOSA — For at least one night this season, the good times returned to Penn Gymnasium.

Playing on the same home floor where the William Penn men's basketball team won three or the last four Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament titles and three of four NAIA national tournament contests over the past two years, the Statesmen were able to ring the victory bell on last time last month with a 93-83 win over Clarke sending four seniors out with one final home victory.

That closing win, however, is the only thing that has been somewhat similar to the year over year success that John Henry has led the Statesmen over the past two decades. William Penn finished a 6-22 season falling on the road to No. 15 MidAmerica Nazarene two weeks ago, the fewest single-season wins under Henry since a 2-23 in his first season as the program's head coach back in the 2001-02 campaign.

"This season hasn't gone the way the previous 20 seasons have gone," Henry said. "We went from winning six straight conference titles and won a lot of games. For whatever reasons this year, we've had a lot of pitfalls and a lot of issues to overcome.

"To win on Senior Night for those kids, with all their parents here, is pretty special."

William Penn finished 5-19 in Heart of American Athletic Conference play this season after losing just three conference games in the past three seasons. The Statesmen entered this season having won 30 or more games in five of the past seven seasons, advancing all the way to consecutive NAIA National Tournament semifinals from 2016-2018.

The Statesmen ended last season winning five consecutive postseason games at home, including two wins that propelled William Penn to Kansas City for the NAIA National Tournament's Round of 16 clinching Henry's sixth 30-win season at the helm of the program. Despite winning just two games at home throughout the course of the regular season entering the Senior Night contest with Clarke, the Statesmen showed glimpses of the team that has been one of the best NAIA programs over the past two decades scoring 52 points in the second half to pull away from the Pride down the stretch.

"It did feel like old times. If we can get to 84 points in a game, we're normally going to win," Henry said. "It was good to see all four seniors contribute. The two youngsters, Cam Marshall and Manny Hammonds, both had big games as redshirt freshmen."

Marshall came off the bench to lead William Penn in the home finale against Clarke, scoring 24 points on 7-11 shooting, including a blazing 6-10 effort beyond the 3-point arc. Larontae Mormant, however, provided the Statesmen with a force to be reckoned with in the paint as the 6-9 senior transfer from Northwest Kansas Tech Community College racked up a double-double with 22 points and a game-high 11 rebounds against the Pride.

"With his family here, he just went off. He had a game for the ages," Henry said. "That's the type of game that we'll be talking about 10 years from now. Even though this season hasn't been successful, there's still memories to be made."

Mormant, Jaz Farrell, Marcus Bell and Ontario Chapman all went out winning their final home game as Statesmen. Mormant has the most seniority with the program, having played in just nine games over the previous two seasons after transferring from Northwest Kansas Tech to William Penn prior to the 2021-22 season before playing in 26 games with 15 starts this year as a senior.

"This was a celebration of those four seniors that finished their basketball journeys," Henry said. "All these kids played AAU, played high school basketball and their parents had to travel all over buying all those shoes and equipment for their kids to play. Those families are invested in their kids, so when those kids finish their careers, it is a culmination for an entire family's journey. I'm glad we got to celebrate that culmination with a victory."

William Penn closed out the year with three players earning All-Heart conference honors. Farrell, Shug Sneed and Hammonds were honored for their play this season with Hammonds becoming the first Statesman to be named the league's Freshman of the Year after averaging 14.7 points and 4.8 rebounds this season.

"I'm proud of that, as a coaching staff, we never quit on these kids this season," Henry said. "We had bumps in the road. We had to get rid of a couple of guys and did some different things. We finished the season with our heads up and start working towards next year.

"We've got some tough decisions to make with personnel and recruiting. It's been kind of like the wild west out there. It changed so much during the pandemic to right now both recruiting-wise and player-wise. You just have to find your nitch."

William Penn has proven to be resilient as a program before, having gone from a 12-loss season in 2018-19 to a 30-3 campaign the next year. That promising season, however, was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic which canceled the NAIA National Tournament that William Penn had qualified for.

It was during that offseason, however, that Henry went to work putting together a team that would win 86 of 94 games over the past three seasons claiming three more Heart of America Tournament titles.

"We were locked at home as coaches during the pandemic, so all we did was recruit," Henry said. "We landed a bunch of guys that we probably shouldn't have got. Most of those guys wound up going to higher levels prior to this season. We'll regroup and see what direction we want to go in.

"There's always changes you have to adapt to to sustain success. We have to adapt again, but I think our program is a survivor."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.