THE OPENING TIP-OFF
It's a pivotal week for the Eureka men's basketball team.
The Red Devils have ground to make up in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings, and it starts at home against Principia on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. inside Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center.
Then, on Saturday, they'll head to Historic Gymnasium for a highly-anticipated rematch against Westminster at 3 p.m.
The Red Devils didn't get the start to the second half of the SLIAC slate that they wanted on Saturday.
The team saw a 10-point halftime lead turn into an 88-86 loss to Blackburn at home, and its record drop to 10-7 and 5-5 in league play.
After Wednesday's 146-143 loss at Greenville and a 114-110 overtime loss at Fontbonne, the maroon and gold has dropped three games by a combined nine points. As the team turns the page to a new week of competition, it knows it can't take anything for granted, because it has seen how easily a close game can get away.
On Saturday, Dakota Bennington recorded a team-high 34 points on 14-of-23 shooting while hitting a career-high four 3-pointers.
Austin Juergens and Ian Milsteadt added 20 and 16 points, respectively, while Jordan Dehm pulled down 10 rebounds. As a team, Eureka recorded its highest shooting percentage of any game aside from Greenville (53.3).
The Red Devils are currently averaging 92.2 points per game (second in the league) while shooting 47.6 percent (third in the league). They're leading the SLIAC in rebounds (45.5) and free-throw percentage (75.3), and are also second in blocks (4.5).
Bennington leads the league in scoring at 25.1 points per game. Dehm and Juergens follow at 18.9 and 16.4, while Milsteadt adds 12.4.
As he leads the SLIAC in scoring, field goals and free throws down the stretch of his senior season, Dakota Bennington is also moving up the Eureka men's basketball record book.
Last week, he advanced to the top 10 in three statistical categories, moved into the top five in another and went up a spot in one more.
Bennington is now No. 5 in the NCAA Division III era since 1978 in free throws made with 276, surpassing 2019 graduate Hank Thomas. In addition, he's seventh in free throws attempted with 348.
Bennington, who was recently honored for recording his 1,000th point, is now in the top 10 in scoring with 1,341, surpassing Michael Zasada (2006-10).
He's also 10th in field goals (surpassing 2019 Hall of Fame inductee and 2013 grad Mark Lessen) with 497, and 10th in field goals attempted (surpassing Jordan Kindred 13') with 966.
Principia enters this one at the bottom of the pack in the SLIAC. The Panthers are 3-13 on the season and 2-8 in league play.
They're coming off their second league win — an 80-73 triumph over Iowa Wesleyan on Saturday — and have won two of their past three games after besting MacMurray 92-84 a week earlier.
On Saturday, five Panthers reached double figures, with Trevaughn Goodman's 19 points and 13 rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting leading the way. Payton Sellers put up 17 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. And AJ Byrd, Kevin Wingert and Clark Davidson added 14, 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Goodman averages 17.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He also leads the team in assists (69) and steals (28).
When the Red Devils last tangled with the Panthers, Eureka took care of business on the road in a 112-93 win after leading by as many as 29 in the second half.
Davidson was the top scorer, notching 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting and pulling down 10 rebounds. Goodman and Sellers combined for 34.
The Red Devils lead the all-time series against the Panthers 43-9.
Heading into Wednesday's matchup at Iowa Wesleyan, the Blue Jays are a notch ahead of the Red Devils with a 7-9 record on the season and a 6-4 mark in the SLIAC.
The Blue Jays handed the Red Devils their first SLIAC loss of the season on Dec. 14, besting EC 96-84.
Since then, they've gone 4-3 in January, topping Principia, Balkcburn, Spalding, and most recently, edging Greenville 131-126 on Saturday. Their losses have come against Webster, Fontbonne and MacMurray.
In Saturday's shootout with the Panthers, Jaxon Althaus and Ethan Thompson tallied 31 and 30 points, respectively. Thompson hit six of the team's nine 3-pointers. In December, he went off for 35 and knocked down 10 triples against the Red Devils.
He and Landon Harrison are both averaging over 18.5 points per game, while Althaus is contributing 16.4.
The Blue Jays average 88.9 points per game on 47.6 shooting. However, they've also given up the most points per game of any team in the league aside from Greenville.
Westminster holds a 27-16 advantage over EC in the all-time series.