BISON BEGIN NATIONAL TITLE CHASE FRIDAY AGAINST MANCHESTER
March 3 - BETHANY, W.Va. –Making its seventh NCAA Tournament appearance in school history, the Bethany College men’s basketball team will begin its pursuit of a national championship Friday night at 5:30 in a first round match-up against Manchester (Ind.) College in one of two opening round games at the College of Wooster (Ohio).
Friday night’s other contest will pit the host Wooster against Benedictine (Ill.) University at 7:30 p.m. The two first round winners will square off Saturday night at 7 p.m. with a trip to the Sweet Sixteen at stake.
The Bison (21-7) punched their ticket to the Big Dance with a 74-67 victory at top-seeded Thiel Saturday in the PAC Tournament championship game. Bethany trailed by as many as nine in the first half and was still behind by one with four minutes left before closing the game with a 14-6 run to claim the title. Leading the way in the win for BC was sophomore point guard Reece Mabery (Natrona Heights, Pa./Highlands) with 19 points, 11 coming from the foul line, and junior British Alexander (Dayton, Ohio/Trotwood Madison), who amassed 19 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and five steals.
Leading Bethany on the sideline is head coach Andrew Sachs. The second-year coach who came to Bethany following a five-year stint as an assistant at Holy Cross has a 40-16 overall record and his .714 winning percentage is the highest in the school’s history. In addition to guiding BC to 21 wins this year, tied for third-most in school history, Sachs is trying to become the first coach at Bethany to claim multiple postseason wins following last year’s ECAC Quarterfinal triumph over Neumann.
The BC attack is led by a pair of all-conference forwards in Alexander and sophomore Nick Wilcox (Venetia, Pa./Peters Township). Alexander was a First Team All-PAC selection after leading the league and setting a new Bethany single-season record with 63 blocked shots and ranking second in the circuit in rebounds (8.6). In addition, he averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 50.8 percent from the floor. Wilcox picked up Second Team honors after leading the Bison in scoring (13.7) while also posting 6.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 2.2 steals a game.
Bethany did not just rely on that talented duo to make its run through the conference playoffs. Mabery, who averaged 9.7 points during the year and made a PAC-high 82 steals, just five away from breaking the school’s single-season record, posted his biggest numbers of the season in the Tournament. He averaged 17.7 points in the three games and shot 59 percent (10-17) from the arc and 83 percent (15-18) from the foul line.
Also turning in big efforts during the PAC Tournament was sophomore forward Brady Pacific (Avonmore, Pa./Kiski Area), who averaged 9.3 points and 4.7 boards, senior guard Dustin Opalka (Cortland, Ohio/Lakeview), who put up 9.0 points and shot 64 percent (7-11) from the arc, and sophomore guard James Barton (Bethel Park, Pa.), who was the team’s third-leading scorer during the season (10.6) and tallied 12 of his 14 points in the second half of the title game at Thiel.
Providing the extra boost for the Bison during their run through the PAC Tournament was red-hot shooting from the foul line. The team’s 27-for-33 (81.8 percent) effort in the championship game win over Thiel capped off a three-game stretch in which the Green and White made foul shots at an 80 percent clip (59-74). Bethany also upped its accuracy from the three-point line in the tournament, making 25-of-60 (42 percent) from deep after leading the PAC during the regular season at just under 39 percent.
The Bethany program is an experienced one in postseason games. This is the seventh consecutive year BC has played beyond the conference tournament and fifth NCAA trip in the last 10 years. Last year, the Bison went to the ECAC Tournament and pulled out a quarterfinal win before falling in the semifinals to Penn State Behrend, who also made this year’s NCAA field. Overall, Bethany has two wins in NCAA Tournament play with victories in 1978 over Rose-Hulman (70-65) and 2002 at Pitt-Bradford (110-98).
Manchester (21-6), who is ranked 21st in this week’s D3Hoops.com poll, provides Bethany a formidable foe in this journey to the postseason. The Spartans were champions of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) in the regular season with a 15-3 mark and then posted wins over Transylvania (68-65) and Hanover (79-69) to claim the tournament title. Seventh-year head coach Brad Nadborne was selected as the HCAC Coach of the Year for the first time after taking Manchester to its third conference title and first tournament title since 1995.
Following their outstanding campaign, several Spartan players received All-HCAC accolades. The league’s Most Valuable Player was 6-4 junior guard Jordan Moss, who averaged 13.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 58 percent from the floor. Picking up Second Team honors was 6-5 senior swingman Tyler Henn, who posted 11.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and a team-best 53 steals. Two senior guards rounded out the all-conference honorees in 6-1 Tyler Delauder (11.4 ppg) and 6-3 Nathan Ferch (10.7 ppg), who both received Honorable Mention laurels.
The game will feature a match-up of two premier shot blockers. While Alexander was setting a new BC standard for rejections, Manchester’s 6-10 center Jason Spindler was also rewriting the record book. In addition to averaging 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds, he set new Spartan single-season (69) and career (157) records for rejections.
The five seniors on this Manchester team finished their freshmen year with a record of 4-21, but have built the program back up to its glory days of the 90’s. That’s when the Spartans were the national runner-up in 1995 under then-head coach Steve Alford, who is now the head coach at New Mexico, and in 1999 when they made their last NCAA trip and dropped a second round game to eventual national champion Wisconsin-Platteville.
This year’s team relies on an extremely efficient offense, as Manchester is ranked eighth in Division III in field goal percentage at 49.5. The Spartans also take care of the basketball, averaging only 13.3 turnovers per game. Their current 11-game winning streak dates back to Jan. 19 and a narrow 59-57 setback at Anderson. Since then, Manchester is averaging 75.6 points per game and held nine of their 11 opponents to 67 points or less.
In Friday’s other game, Wooster will try to defend its home floor against Benedictine. The Scots bring a 26-2 record into the Tournament and were regular season and Tournament champions in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC). Ranked fifth in this week’s D3Hoops.com poll, Wooster is led by two-time NCAC Player of the Year and Jostens Trophy Finalist for National Player of the Year Ian Franks. The 6-4 senior guard averaged 18.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He was joined on First Team All-NCAC by senior guard Nathan Balch, who turned in 12.9 points and 3.3 assists per game this season. The Scots defeated Bethany 79-52 when the teams met earlier this season on Nov. 20 in Wooster.
Benedictine won the Northern Athletics Conference (NAC) Tournament to earn its seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament and first since 2004. The Eagles are paced by two First Team All-NAC selections in senior guard Cameron Snelling, who is averaging 14.6 points and 12.0 rebounds per game, and 5-9 senior guard Nate Green, who leads BenU in scoring with 17.9 points per game and was first in the NAC with 6.32 assists per game.