THE OPENING TIP OFF
On Friday night at 6 p.m., roughly 100 years since the program began, the Eureka men's basketball team will open the 2019-2020 season. The Red Devils are hosting Berea in a highly-anticipated season opener inside Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center.
The Mountaineers narrowly edged EC in Kentucky last season. How will a rematch on Dave Darnall Court unfold?
The Red Devils return 11 letterwinners and three senior starters from the storied 2018-19 team.
To refresh your memory, that was the squad that, after a slow start, surged to its first St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title and NCAA Division III Tournament berth in program history.
The Red Devils won their last four conference games to seal a conference tournament berth on the last day of the regular season, outgunned Greenville in the SLIAC tourney semifinals and edged Webster in the championship in dramatic fashion. Then, Chip Wilde's guys ended their historic run against No. 1 Nebraska Wesleyan on the national stage.
Dakota Bennington, previously a star at Peoria Christian, returns as the Red Devils' leading scorer. Last season, he averaged (23.3 point per game), posted 30 points or more five times and dropped a program-record 51 against Greenville.
Jordan Dehm, a Metamora product, is the squad's active leader in games played (69), 3-pointers (78), rebounds (456) and blocks (53). He contributed 12 points per game, a team-leading 8.6 rebounds per game, and his block in the final seconds of the SLIAC Tournament championship sent EC to a national tournament for the first time in 25 years.
Pekin's Austin Juergen's is the team's active leader in assists with 104. Last season, he emerged as a dependable starter and all-around talent for the Red Devils, averaging 12.9 points per game and 5.4 rebounds.
Returning from last year's supporting cast is defensive standout guard Jalen Hosea, as well as 6-foot-9 junior center Jaedon Banks, key reserve Kyle Henderson, the much-improved J'Len Crawford, four-year senior Kyler Stork and fifth-year senior Ethan Zulz.
Berea was voted to finish second in the USA South Men's Basketball West Division Preseason Poll, and snagged one first-place vote.
Last season, the Mountaineers finished fifth in the league with a 6-12 record in league play and went 11-14 overall. They averaged 78.2 points per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor, 30.8 percent from beyond the arc and 70.5 percent at the stripe.
Junior guard Torell Carter returns after averaging 20.6 points per game last season – good for third-best in the conference. A second-team all-conference selection, he was also third in the league in rebounds at 8.2
Sophomore Isaac Caudill added 18.2 points per game (fifth in the league), and was named conference Newcomer of the Year. The Mountaineers also have two others with starting in experience in Mitchell Embree and Andrew Doty.
Head coach John Hemenway is in his 10th year at the helm of the program. From 2014-2017, he led the Mountaineers to three consecutive USCAA National Tournaments and twice advanced to the USCAA national semi-finals.
RED DEVILS SELECTED THIRD IN SLIAC PRESEASON POLL
Less than nine months after EC reached the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in program history, the Red Devils were selected to finish third in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Defending champion Webster finished at the top with 78 overall votes and six out of 10 first-place votes. Greenville was second with 67 overall and three first-place votes.
The last time these teams met, Torell Carter's driving layup in the closing seconds proved to be the difference as Berea downed Eureka 90-88 at Seabury Center in Berea, Kentucky, on Nov. 17. 2018.
Carter's came shortly after Bennington pushed down two free throws for an 88-88 deadlock with 33 seconds to play. After Carter's field goal, Eureka had one final chance to shoot for the tie or the win, but a 3-point attempt from the wing as time expired was off the mark.
Bennington added 29 and Juergens ended the night with 15 points.
It was the teams' second-ever meeting and first since 1975, when the Mountaineers won it, 100-85.