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Jan. 3 - BETHANY, W.Va. – The Bethany College men’s and women’s basketball teams will return to PAC play Saturday for the first time in a month when they travel to Thiel (Pa.) College for a doubleheader. The women open the day with a 1 p.m. tip-off, with the men to follow at 3 p.m.

The Bison men (5-6, 1-1), who last played a conference game Dec. 5 with a 100-78 triumph at Waynesburg (Pa.) University, will be trying to snap a three-game losing streak. In their first outing of 2008 Wednesday, BC erased a 17-point second half deficit to draw even with Lake Erie (Ohio) College at 70-70 with 1:48 to play. However, the Storm would score the final three points of the contest to escape with a 73-70 victory. Senior guard Brody Jackson (Akron, Ohio/Manchester) and junior guard Tyler Morando (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Central) each tallied 14 in the setback.

Bethany’s recent struggles have put them under .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2002-03. That season, which was head coach Aaron Huffman’s first at the helm of the program, saw BC start out 5-6, but their average margin of defeat was 24.3 points. This year, the Bison’s six losses have come by a total of 26 points or an average of 4.3. All of their defeats have come by single digits, with their largest loss being an 87-78 setback to Thomas More (Ky.) College Dec. 1 in the Green and White’s league opener.

For the Bison to turn around their recent trend, they must return to their efficient offensive ways displayed through the opening eight games. In running out to a 5-3 mark, BC shot 49.8 percent from the floor, including 38.8 percent from the arc. In the last three contests, Bethany is connecting on just 38.1 percent of their attempts from the floor and 28.9 percent from the deep. By comparison, teams are hitting 47.1 percent of their shots against the Green and White in the last three games.

Looking at the history between Bethany and Thiel, the Tomcats would seem to be the right opponent for the Bison right now. BC leads the all-time series between the schools 101-43 and has captured nine straight by an average of 20.2 points. Bethany won all three meetings a season ago, including a 78-75 triumph in Greenville and a 94-80 victory at home in the PAC Tournament Quarterfinals.

While history may be on the Bison’s side, this is a vastly improved Thiel squad. After going 5-20 in their first season under head coach Tim Loomis, the Tomcats have already matched their victory total from last year by getting off to a 5-4 start this year, including a 1-1 mark in the PAC. Thiel’s early PAC schedule mirrored Bethany’s, as TC defeated Waynesburg 86-59, then lost to Thomas More 96-84. However, the Tomcats will be trying to end their own two-game losing streak, as they dropped both games at the Defiance (Ohio) College Tournament over the break, losing to Defiance 69-49 and Loras (Iowa) College 73-59.

Thiel’s top player is senior preseason All-American Joe Herrmann. The 6-5 forward is ranked in the top 10 in the PAC in five categories, including third in scoring (18.6), sixth in rebounding (7.1), eighth in field goal percentage (54.4), fifth in free throw percentage (85.1) and seventh in blocked shots (0.71). He has also enjoyed quite a bit of success against Bethany in his career, as in six meetings with BC, he is averaging 23.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Hermann’s biggest effort was a monstrous 36-point, 15-rebound effort in last year’s close contest at Thiel.

The key to Thiel’s quick turnaround this season is a more productive supporting cast. Freshman guard Devon Adams is averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while also shooting a PAC-best 90.9 percent from the foul line. Three others are averaging better than 8.5 points per game, including Cory Chafee (9.6), Tommy Hall (9.4) and Nick Sefcsik (8.7). In addition, the Tomcats are one of the better teams in the conference on the glass, as they are out-rebounding foes by 5.7 per game, second-best in the PAC.

Bethany’s women will be playing their first game in 27 days when they take on Thiel Saturday afternoon. BC’s (4-5, 1-1) last outing was 79-68 overtime loss to undefeated Geneva (Pa.) College Dec. 8. Freshman guard Kelly Goode (Pleasant Plain, Ohio/Little Miami) posted team-highs of 18 points and eight rebounds in the loss, which was highlighted by the Bison bench recording a 35-2 scoring advantage over Geneva. Freshman Tara Harris (Zanesville, Ohio) led their efforts with 14, while junior center Renee Brandenburg (Avella, Pa.) dropped in 12.

The Bison subs have played a key role all season long, as Bethany’s bench has out-scored their opponents in eight of the nine games so far. The reserves are averaging 25.1 points per contest, which makes up nearly 39 percent of the Bison offense (64.9 ppg.). Freshman guard Stacy Goode (Pleasant Plain, Ohio/Little Miami) has been BC’s top performer off the bench, as she is scoring 9.3 points per game when she doesn’t start.

This series has been more evenly matched than the men’s. Bethany holds a 30-21 advantage over Thiel, but the Tomcats have won three of the last five match-ups. The teams split their meetings last year, with each defending their home court. Senior guard Lisa Mitchell (Burgettstown, Pa./Avella) scored 21 and the Nicole Thompson hit a shot at the buzzer for a 76-75 win at Hummel Field House, while Thiel came away with a 76-73 triumph in Greenville.

The Thiel women are similar to the men’s team in that they are led by a preseason All-American. Forward Amber Bodrick is ranked second in the PAC in scoring with 20.8 points per game, while also pulling down a conference-best 9.6 rebounds. Bodrick, who is also third in the league in blocked shots (1.67) and ninth in assists (2.56), has put up huge numbers at Bethany’s expense through her young career. She is averaging a double-double against the Bison (35.3 points, 11.5 rebounds) and has been held to less than 32 points in just one out of four meetings with Bethany, which actually came in TC’s home win last season.

Other players to watch for the Tomcats are a pair of forwards. Freshman Kim Stritt is second on the team in scoring (9.0) and third in rebounding (6.3), while sophomore Jasmin Jones is averaging 5.1 points and 6.9 boards per contest. Thiel’s athletic frontcourt is the main reason they are bettering their opponents by 2.5 boards per game.

A win Saturday would keep the Tomcats (5-4, 2-1) near the top of the PAC. They own league victories over Waynesburg (69-57) and Chatham (51-48), while dropping a game at currently fifth-ranked Thomas More (84-46). Thiel will be gunning for their second in a row after they knocked off Juniata (Pa.) College Wednesday 68-62 behind 18 points and six rebounds from Catie Sieber off the bench. Bethany also played Juniata this season, falling by a 53-51 count in the title game of the PSU-Behrend Tip-Off Tournament Nov. 17.