Preview: Webster showdown looms large for EC

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

EUREKA — It's February, and the Eureka men are gearing up for a grueling final stretch of the season.

It begins Saturday at 3 p.m. with a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference showdown against conference leader Webster at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center.

ABOUT EUREKA  

With a 5-7 conference record and just six SLIAC games remaining in the regular season, the Red Devils (6-12 on the season) are in must-win territory to stay in the hunt for a conference tournament spot.

They're coming off a pair of close conference losses, and looking to make a statement against the SLIAC's top team.

On Wednesday, the Red Devils fell just shy of completing an impressive comeback against Blackburn, coming within three points in the final two minutes after trailing by 24 in the first half.

Junior Dakota Bennington posted a team-high 25 points, while senior Hank Thomas, junior Jordan Dehm and junior Austin Juergens tacked on 13, 12 and 10, respectively.

Bennington is third in the SLIAC in scoring at 21.4 points per game, fourth in total points (363) and fifth in field goals made (129 of 277). Thomas, who's third in the SLIAC in assists (90), is currently the nation's second-best free-throw shooter, sinking 95.3 percent of his foul shots this season. He's also fifth in program history in 3-pointers made (191) and ninth in total points (1,355).

Senior Alex Wiegand remains the SLIAC's epitome of efficiency, leading the conference with a 70.5 field goal percentage on 4.3 attempts per game. Dehm continues to have the fifth-best rebounds per game rate in the league (8.1) while averaging 12.8 points per game. Juergens is right behind him at 12.3.

Eureka returns 10 letterwinners and four players that started at least five games from last season's team that went 18-8 overall and finished as the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference runner-up with a 13-5 league record. The Red Devils will welcome nearly a dozen newcomers to the 2018-19 roster, seven of which will have freshman eligibility.

ABOUT WEBSTER

Going into the final month of the season, Webster is sitting at the top of the perch in the SLIAC. The Gorloks have put together an 11-1 conference record and a 15-4 mark overall.

The team's only SLIAC loss came at Blackburn in double overtime on Jan. 9. Since then, it has ripped off five straight wins, knocking off previous conference leader Greenville, Fontbonne, Iowa Wesleyan, MacMurray and Spalding.

The Gorloks feature balanced scoring — four in double figures, but no one averaging 20.

Josh Johnson is the leading scorer with 18.1 points per game, followed by Enrique Tankins (14.6), Nigel Wilcox (12.3) and Rodson Etinne (11.8).

Wilcox is one of the conference's best rebounders, securing 8.1 boards per game and racking up 172 on the season. Rodson Etienne shoots an efficient 58 percent from the field — fourth in the SLIAC.

As a team, the Gorloks shoot a league-best 48.2 percent from the field and have the league's lowest opponents' shooting percentage (41.4). They average 77.1 points per game – enough to win most nights, but 10.2 points per fewer than EC.

A charter member of the SLIAC, Webster is the winningest men's basketball program in league history. The Gorloks have won eight SLIAC regular-season titles, including at least a share of the crown in five of the last 12 seasons. Additionally, Webster won SLIAC Tournament championships in 2011 and 2014.

RECENT HISTORY

Webster leads the all-time series against EC, which dates back to January 1986, 19-12.

The Red Devils and Gorloks split last season's annual home-and-home series. Thomas scored 12 points, Wiegand grabbed nine rebounds and the Red Devils went 14-for-29 from beyond the arc in an 81-70 win over WU at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center on Dec. 16, 2017. The 11-point margin of victory was Eureka's largest in the series with the Gorloks in more than seven years.

Then, two Davian Joseph free throws in the waning seconds of the second half proved to be the difference in Webster's 79-78 victory over Eureka last Jan. 31.

In the most recent matchup, Bennington scored 24 points to lead a group of five Eureka starters that scored in double figures, but Webster didn't trail after halftime and withstood a big EC rally midway through the second half to down the Red Devils 84-76.

Dehm recorded a double-double with 11 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Johnson dropped a team-high 21 for the Gorloks.

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 proven 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.

One of the longest tenured men's basketball head coaches in the SLIAC, Chris Bunch is in his 17th season at Webster. His record is 252-175. Six of the Gorloks' eight SLIAC championships have come with Bunch on the bench. He is a four-time SLIAC Coach of the Year and piloted the Gorloks to NCAA Tournament berths in 2011 and 2014. 

Prior to his appointment at Webster in 2002, the 1988 Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.) graduate served as an assistant coach at Maryville (Tenn.).

FOLLOW THE ACTION ONLINE

Eureka will provide a live online video broadcast of Wednesday's game. Links will be available at EurekaRedDevils.com, SLIAC.org and D3hoops.com. Amos Arbogast is in his second season directing the Red Devils.