Preview: Westminster provides road challenge for Red Devils

Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.

FULTON, Mo. — The Eureka College men avenged an early-season loss to a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponent once this week.

They're looking to do it again on the road against Westminster on Saturday at 3 p.m.

ABOUT EUREKA

The Red Devils' 79-72 win over Spalding Wednesday night at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena was their first over a top-four SLIAC squad of the season. They've now picked up three wins in a row and four in their last five games.

They've also reached .500 in SLIAC play for the first time this season. EC enters this one 6-10 on the season and 5-5 in the conference.

On Wednesday, the Red Devils led by as many as 22 points before holding off a late Golden Eagles' surge to preserve the win. Junior Jordan Dehm, the Red Devils' top rebounder, posted a team-high 16 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow junior Austin Juergens added 15 and five, while junior Dakota Bennington contributed 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals.

Senior Hank Thomas, the team's leading distributor with 82 assists, also added 13 points, moving into the top 10 of EC's all-time scoring list with 1,325 points overall and passing Bob Strickland.

Senior Alex Wiegand added 13 points and was a perfect 7 of 7 from the field, making him the SLIAC's leader in field goal percentage (71.8).  

Thomas is third in the SLIAC in assists (82), Bennington is fourth in points per game (21.4) and Dehm is fifth in boards per game (8.1).

Eureka averages 89 points per game – second in the conference and 15th in the nation. It's in the top four in the SLIAC in 3-point percentage (33.9), free-throw percentage (76.2), rebounds per game (39.9), assists per game (18.3) and is fifth in field goal percentage (45).

All told, Eureka features 10 returning letterwinners and four players who started at least five games for last season's team, which went 18-8 overall and finished as SLIAC runner-up with a 13-5 league record. The Red Devils have nearly a dozen newcomers on the 2018-19 roster, seven of which have freshman eligibility.

ABOUT WESTMINSTER

It's been an up-and-down month for the Blue Jays. They opened January with a win over Spalding, but then lost by 20 to current conference leader Webster. They took care of ninth-place Principia and last-place MacMurray with ease, but then lost to eighth-place Iowa Wesleyan.

The highlight was when they outgunned Greenville and bumped the Panthers to second place. A three-point loss to fifth-place Blackburn followed.

Now, Westminster is tied with Spalding for third in the SLIAC with a 7-4 mark in the conference and an 8-10 record overall.

The team is led by 6-foot-5 senior forward Romo Tabb and 6-3 junior guard Kobe Wands.

Tabb averages 18.3 points per game and is fourth in the SLIAC in total points (329) and field goals (119/244), and fifth in total rebounds (136). Wands puts up 15.7 points per game.

Senior Carter Wands, meanwhile, distributes 4.6 assists per game and swipes 1.8 steals per game. He's second and fourth in the SLIAC those categories, respectively.

The Blue Jays aren't overpowering on the offensive end. They're sixth in the SLIAC in points per game with 75.6 — 13 points fewer than the Red Devils. But they shoot a league-best 78.2 from the free-throw line.

RECENT HISTORY

Eureka and Westminster have met 41 times in men's basketball since January 1988. The Blue Jays lead the all-time series, 25-16, including a 19-8 mark since the two schools become SLIAC rivals prior to the 2006-07 season. EC and WC have met three times in the SLIAC Tournament (2010, 2012, 2013), including a 77-72 victory for the Red Devils in the 2013 semifinals.

The Red Devils swept the home-and-home season series for the first time last winter with a pair of lopsided wins, but Westminster took down EC 88-72 on Dec. 8.

The Blue Jays currently have the second-lowest 3-point percentage in the SLIAC (29.2), but they hit 14 triples against EC last month.

Thomas delivered a team-high 21 points and seven assists for the Red Devils in a losing effort. Juergens followed with 15 points and Dehm added 12 points and was one board short of a double-double.

Nolan Huot (4.3 points per game) was responsible for six of the Blue Jays' treys and finished with a season-high 29 points off the bench. He's only reached double figures in one other game this season.


MEET THE HEAD COACHES

The owner of nearly three decades of coaching experience at the collegiate level, Chip Wilde is in his 12th season as head coach of the Eureka College men's basketball team in 2018-19. The current campaign marks Wilde's 21st season as a collegiate basketball head coach.

Wilde has proved to be one of the most successful head coaches in the storied history of Eureka men's basketball, establishing the Red Devils as a steady presence in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference both on the court and in the classroom. Wilde entered the 2018-19 campaign with 135 wins, fourth-most in the century-long history of the program.

Matt Mitchell is currently in his 21st season directing the Blue Jays. The three-time SLIAC Coach of the Year has led WC to three SLIAC regular season championships, as well as the SLIAC Tournament titles in 2010, 2012, 2016 and 2017.

The Lexington, Mo. native played collegiately for Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson at Arkansas before earning his undergraduate degree from UA in 1987. He owns a master's degree from Western Illinois. Mitchell, who worked alongside EC head coach Chip Wilde as assistants at WIU during the 1988-89 season, also serves at WC's Director of Athletics.

FOLLOW THE ACTION ONLINE

Westminster will provide a live online video broadcast and live real-time statistics of Saturday's game. Links will be available at EurekaRedDevils.com, SLIAC.org and D3hoops.com.