There weren’t many times last season that Everett Hartman would look deep down his bench.
When he did, it was to run seldom-used players to the scoring table late in a game that had already been decided on the scoreboard.
What a difference a year makes.
Hartman, Linn-Benton Community College’s second-year head coach, and his staff have brought in new talent and created depth, making the Roadrunners a contender in Northwest Athletic Conference men’s basketball.
“It’s been huge for us, to be able to play 10, 12, 13 guys and they all contribute,” Hartman said. “We always watch our minutes played very, very closely, rotating guys in because we really want to push the tempo.”
Linn-Benton (16-7, 6-4 NWAC South Region) has 11 players averaging double-digit minutes and none more than freshman wing Taylor Jensen’s 28.1.
It’s been an historic season for the Roadrunners, who are experiencing the program’s first back-to-back winning seasons in 41 years.
Hartman told last year’s team, which finished 8-8 in the region and one game out of the conference tournament, that it was pouring the foundation. This year’s group was told it his helping to build the house.
LB was ranked in the NWAC coaches poll, at eighth, for the first time since the school joined the conference in 1982. The Roadrunners exited the poll after losing two of three games but returned this week after last Saturday’s 82-63 home win against then-No. 1 Portland.
The Roadrunners saw a four-game win streak come to an end Wednesday with an 85-71 home loss to Umpqua.
They enter Saturday’s game at Clark tied with Umpqua for third in the NWAC South with six regular-season games remaining. The top four in the region qualify for the NWAC tournament, held in Everett, Washington, in mid-March.
The Roadrunners are eighth in scoring in the 34-team NWAC at 76.1 points per game. Hartman’s goal is to play his entire roster in the first half, then go with the hot hand and work around with foul trouble after halftime.
“There’s definitely games where a couple dudes in the first lineup aren’t getting it done and that second group comes in and they’re tearing it up,” said Trey Ecker, a sophomore guard. “We have eight-plus players who can score at will and it helps out tremendously.”
The Roadrunner staff has expended its recruiting area slightly but wants to remain local. Ten of the 13 players on the current roster went to high school within an hour of LB’s Albany campus.
Hartman says it’s a plus that he and lead assistant coach Todd Zimmermann coached high school basketball in the area.
“We feel really good with where we’re headed,” Hartman said. “In terms of recruiting, we’re getting kids to respond to us. We’re getting into homes we’ve never gotten into. So we’re really working hard on the recruiting trail.”
Ecker, a Philomath High alum, equaled his season high with a team-best 21 points against Portland.
A starter averaging 10.7 points per game, Ecker is one of eight LB players at 8.1 points or better.
Freshman wing Bailey Evers averages a team-high 14.1 points. West Albany High grad Cooper Getsfrid, a sophomore forward, is at 13.3 and Jensen at 11.2. Philomath alum Riley Davis, a freshman wing, is a key reserve averaging 4.7 points.
“I think we have a lot of unselfish players. We work together,” said Jensen, a Forest Grove product who leads the NWAC in rebounding at 10.4 per game. “Defensively, we’re not a bunch of guys that are going to lock people down one on one. We work well as a team on defense.”
The Roadrunners are eighth in the conference in rebounds (42.0), points allowed (76.1) and field goal percentage defense (42.7).