Men’s Basketball Ends 35-Year Drought Against Wooster


Photo Courtesy of Thomas Hill

Yuuki Okubo dribbles past an opponent.

The Oberlin men’s basketball team made history last Saturday at Philips gym, defeating The College of Wooster — a perennial powerhouse in the NCAC — for the first time since 1988. The game went down to the wire, finishing with a 71–68 victory for the home team.

The Yeomen started out the contest on fire and got a 14-point lead by the end of the first half, holding the Fighting Scots to just seven made field goals. Oberlin’s Head Men’s Basketball Coach Shiva Senthil, who is in his first year of coaching the team, believes his squad had a mental edge early on.

“We set ourselves up with a really good mindset in warmups,” he said. “Our guys were locked in and we understood how big a game this was for our program. They executed to perfection and played really hard. When you do that, things start to bounce your way.”

Although Oberlin built a nice lead early, Wooster — which came into the game with a 9–1 record in the conference — was not going to go out quietly. They rallied in the second half and took a one point lead with 7:38 remaining. Senthil reminded his team to focus on what they could control during Wooster’s run.

“We had to continue executing and understand that good teams are going to make runs and how we react to those runs is going to determine the outcome,” he said.

Fourth-year forward Đorđe Otašević believes the first half performance gave them confidence they could retake the lead.

“We understood that we got up by 14 points earlier and that we could take the lead again,” he said. “We kept doing what we worked on and stuck to our principles. We believed in each other, plus the energy from the bench was unbelievable.”

Defense was a critical factor for the Yeomen in their win. The team held Wooster to just 29 percent shooting from the field and racked up seven blocks and six steals. Second-year point guard Yuuki Okubo played a significant role, tallying three steals and two blocks of his own.

“First as a team, we did a really good job of sticking to the game plan the coaches made for us,” Okubo said. “Everybody was locked in on a string and knew what the rotations were. For me, last time we played Wooster I didn’t have a good game so I just tried to come out with energy to propel us forward.”

Senthil agrees that it was a great defensive team effort.

“Every single person whether they were on the court or the bench understood their role to perfection,” he said. “They played incredibly hard and got to every single rotation and contested every single shot. It was the best execution of our game plan we’ve had all year.”

Offensively, the Yeomen attacked Wooster by getting all members of the team involved. Okubo led the way with 14 points, while Otašević scored 12 with efficient shooting, going five of six from the field.

“I was able to get the shots we work on every single day, and I played to my advantage,” Otašević said. “Wooster was adapting to our offense, but we were able to have good reads and my teammates were able to find me for open shots.”

Five other Oberlin players finished with at least six points, proving that it was a team effort offensively. Okubo, who has the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in all of NCAA men’s basketball this year and was recently named NCAC Player of the Week, centers his game around getting teammates involved.

“My job is to get everybody involved so I try to do the best I can to get everybody in their spots and get them good looks,” Okubo said. “I think we’re a much better team when the scoring is spread out and we can all contribute.”

Players and coaches recognize the historic impact of Saturday’s victory.

“It’s really, really special, and I’m happy for our guys and what it means for our season,” Senthil said. “Our guys have worked really hard, and I’m happy they got this result because they really deserve it.”

Okubo also appreciates the win and what it can do to motivate the team.

“It means a lot,” he said. “It’s huge for the program because it gives us confidence and the boost we need.”

The team’s 1–9 record in the NCAC going into the game may suggest that it is a rebuilding year. However, the victory over Wooster showed that Oberlin can compete with any team in the conference. This is not lost on Otašević.

“We worked hard, we believed, and we achieved something great,” he said. “However, we can’t be satisfied with this because we still have a lot to do to secure the conference playoffs spot and have a shot at the championship. With the win over Wooster we proved that we can play with anyone and we just need to keep improving from here on out.”