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Eagles prepare for NCAA matchup vs. Southern Indiana

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Eagles prepare for NCAA matchup vs. Southern Indiana

Redshirt sophomore Aaron Thompson goes up for a layup against Wayne State on Feb. 28.

Redshirt sophomore Aaron Thompson goes up for a layup against Wayne State on Feb. 28.

Bree Gannon

Redshirt sophomore Aaron Thompson goes up for a layup against Wayne State on Feb. 28.

Bree Gannon

Bree Gannon

Redshirt sophomore Aaron Thompson goes up for a layup against Wayne State on Feb. 28.

Zach Read

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As announced on March 10, the Ashland University men’s basketball team is taking their dancing shoes to Romeoville, Ill. to play in the NCAA tournament.

After coming off a regular season record of 23-6 and losing in the first round of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament, the Eagles received an at-large bid and will play in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday (Mar. 16) against Southern Indiana.

“The NCAA tournament is the best of the best and I think it’s that moment in life where you get to see how good you are at something that you work so hard at, and those moments don’t come around every single day,” head coach John Ellenwood said.

This is the Eagles first appearance in NCAA postseason play since 2016 and only their second time since 1991 as well as their 12th appearance in program history.

AU hosted Grand Valley State on Mar. 5 in the first round of the GLIAC tournament but were not able to secure the win as they fell to the Lakers 72-61 and awaited their fate for the NCAA tournament.

“I was disappointed that we didn’t get a little further but honestly it might be a blessing that we didn’t,” Ellenwood said. “We got some good days off, got our legs rested. Our guys were pretty tired up to that point playing a lot of tough games.”

To begin the 2018-2019 campaign, the Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the country, winning 13 straight games to start the season. After losing at Parkside on Jan. 10 by a score of 68-61, the Eagles were able to close out the month of January with five straight wins to bring them to a record of 18-1.

However, February proved to be much tougher as the Eagles went 5-4 in the month that makes or breaks seasons in college basketball.

The month of February was opened up with two tough games at home against Davenport and Grand Valley State, two teams the Eagles had defeated on the road back in December.

AU lost both of those matchups 92-72 and 60-53, respectively, but were able to bounce back and muster wins against Ferris State (67-56), Purdue Northwest (84-56), Parkside (68-64), Northwood (83-77) and Wayne State (70-63).

Looking ahead to the NCAA tournament, Ellenwood and the Eagles will be looking for strong performances from all five of their starters in order to be successful.

Bree Gannon
Junior center Drew Noble.

Junior center Drew Noble currently leads the team in 17.1 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game while redshirt sophomore Aaron Thompson leads the GLIAC in rebounds per game with 9.4 to go along with 11.1 points per game. The other two Eagles on the roster with scoring averages in double digits are guards Rodrick Caldwell and Ben Haraway both averaging 12.5 points per game.

Going into Saturday’s first round game against Southern Indiana, Ellenwood said that the Eagle’s key to victory is to shut down senior guard Alex Stein.

“They have maybe the best scorer we’ll see all year and one of the best in the country, a kid named Alex Stein,” Ellenwood said. “We have to limit him the best way we can.”

Stein is averaging 20.8 points per game which ranks second in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, and is shooting 56 percent from the field and 48 percent from behind the arc on the 2018-2019 season. In his collegiate career with the Screaming Eagles, Stein has 2111 career points and is currently third on Southern Indiana’s all-time scoring list.

“We played them two years ago and we were up 16 against them on a neutral floor in the second half with about 11 minutes to go and that kid caught fire,” Ellenwood said. “He ended up having 38 points against us and we had maybe one of our best defenders of all time in Boo Osborne guarding him late in the game. It’s just one of those things where we could not stop him.”

Ellenwood also said that in order to have a successful game against Southern Indiana they have to take care of the ball offensively and find the right shots, and make those shots.

As of late, the Eagles coaching staff has also adopted a new motto on how to play defensively going down the stretch.

“We have to get our attitude back on the defensive end. I like to call it our insanity on defense of playing as hard as you can with a smile on your face, that just wasn’t there,” Ellenwood said. “That is our identity and we need to do a better job of that and going into this tournament I think we’ll be a little bit more energetic, a little bit more aggressive then we have been for probably a month.”

The stage is set as the Ashland University Eagles prepare to battle it out with the University of Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday (Mar. 16) at 8:30 p.m. EST in Romeoville, Ill.

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