Trent Severs was watching his senior season slip away.
Off to a 2-6 start in KCAC play, the McPherson College guard wasn't thinking about a return trip to the NAIA Division II National Tournament or playing in today's KCAC Tournament championship game at Hartman Arena.
He was just thinking about ways for his team to get back to .500.
"I'm walking around, talking to my teammates, asking if we were going to go out like this, if we were gonna let this be how my senior year went," Severs said. "I was beside myself. Not a good time."
How the Bulldogs righted their ship to make it today's title game against Sterling is as much a testament to the players as it is to third-year coach Tim Swartzendruber and his staff.
"Christmas break, it seemed like coach was constantly putting us around each other, away from basketball," said Severs, the team's lone senior. "We ate almost all of our meals together, we started hanging out. And then things started to come together."
The Bulldogs still struggled after their return from break, but towards the end of January scored back-to-back overtime wins over Sterling, their opponent in today's finals, and Kansas Wesleyan.
They finished the season by winning 11 of 12 games, the only blemish in the regular-season finale at Sterling, a 71-67 defeat.
"I think every team in the league, not just us, has been talking about what a great opportunity it would be to get to play at Hartman," Severs said. "
Freshman guard Samson Shivers is the Bulldogs' leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, but five players average at least eight points.
"There were a lot of team meetings, a lot of 1-on-1 meetings when we were going through our rough stretch," Swartzendruber said. "I felt going into the season that it was going to take some time to gel as a team because we lost so much leadership, so much experience.
"But I knew if we stayed the course we had a chance to be pretty good."
Swartzendruber, who coached at Hesston College for four years, is trying for his second straight trip to the national tournament. It would also be the second trip in school history.
Severs, from Inman, has been with Swartzendruber from the start after playing his freshman year at Sterling.
"After education, the most important thing to coach is winning, and he's brought that attitude to McPherson, which is something I don't think they had before," Severs said. "And we all complain about how hard he works us, how much he makes us run, but when we get to the end of games we can tell the difference. We can see why he was doing what he was doing."
Tipoff for tonight's game is set for 6 p.m., with the winner earning an automatic bid to the national tournament. The women's final between two nationally ranked teams No. 6 Kansas Wesleyan and No. 13 Sterling is immediately following the men's game.