2013-14 Men's Basketball
October 24, 2013
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Sommer Center will be rocking when the 2013-14 men's basketball team hits the floor this season. An exciting final six weeks of the 2012-13 campaign has the Beavers primed to get back on the court. Bluffton went 7-5 down the stretch and lost heartbreakers to HCAC champion Rose-Hulman and Anderson thanks to a pair of miracle buzzer-beaters. A dominating Senior Night victory over bitter rival Defiance College gives Bluffton a heaping helping of momentum as the Beavers prepare for another rugged season in the Heartland Conference.
With eight of the top 10 from last year's rotation back for 2013-14, Bluffton returns a wealth of experience to the hardwood. Three of the top post players in the conference have the Beaver fans giddy about their team's chances this season. Looking to exploit teams in the paint, Bluffton is comfortable using the shot clock to wear out opponents in the half court. Coach Neal has stressed that, "We need to shoot better at the free throw line while continuing to limit our turnovers." Limiting the number of possessions makes it imperative that Bluffton cashes in at the line. Rebounding should remain a strength for the Beavers after a season in which Bluffton yanked down a conference-best 36.7 caroms per game, nearly three more than the next best in the HCAC and nine more than its opponents.
Ready to pick up where he left off last season when he put the Beavers on his back down the stretch, All-Heartland Conference post Will Pope (Somerville/Preble Shawnee) anchors Bluffton's inside presence with 12.9 PPG and 6.5 RPG, both team highs in his first year as a starter. Fellow senior Dustin Kinn (Alvada/New Riegel) is also a load on the blocks, putting up 11.8 PPG while chipping in with 5.6 RPG, nearly three more boards than he collected as a sophomore. Seniors Jon Fowler (Cincinnati/St. Xavier) and Dillon Long (Rockford/Parkway) have backed the Bluffton bigs with important minutes off the bench over the past three seasons.
Although a knee injury ended Josh Johnson's (Ottawa-Glandorf) season during the best stretch of his career, the senior is ready to find his range once again when the Beavers take the floor. Johnson averaged 14 PPG on 11-of-18 shooting from distance in the four games prior to his injury. Senior captain Matt Weisenborn (Bowling Green/Otsego) has been a leader throughout his time at Bluffton, on the court, in the weightroom and at the head of the class. Weisenborn was recently named to the NABC Honors Court, one of five Beavers to earn that distinction.
Junior guards Ryan Ebbeskotte (Delphos/Jefferson) and Brock Homier (Continental) both saw time out front for the Beavers a season ago. Ebbeskotte moved into the starting lineup when Johnson went down and he took over at point guard as Tyler Neal moved to the wing. He dished out eight assists in a win over Manchester and then came up just one shy of the Bluffton record when he handed out 12 helpers in the blowout of Defiance. Homier also has excellent court vision, often finding Kinn and Pope free under the basket during his first season after transferring in a year ago.
Rounding out Bluffton's dominating trio of post players is sophomore Thayne Recker (Arlington) who led the HCAC with a blistering 65.2 field goal percentage. Recker dropped in 7.8 PPG and ripped down 5.1 RPG in just 18 minutes per game off the bench. Also providing quality minutes for the Beavers a season ago were guards Billy Taflinger (Lima/Central Catholic) and Nate Chambers (Miamisburg) who both averaged four PPG as freshmen.
Missing out on the 2012-13 Heartland Conference tournament has been motivation for this year's squad which is busy preparing for season two in the Sommer Center. Using the second half of last year as a springboard, the Beavers are looking to create a rousing crescendo en route to a deep tournament run in February and March. With three of the top five field goal shooters in the HCAC back, spacing and outside shooting will be critical for Bluffton to take advantage of its inside strength. The Bluffton perimeter players hold the key to keeping opponents from packing it in with their zone defenses.
The Heartland Conference again sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament and there is no reason think that won't happen again. Rose-Hulman and Transy both suffered crucial losses due to graduation but the Engineers bring back Julian Strickland, the Heartland Conference Player of the Year and a Second Team NABC All-American. Hanover will also be in the mix thanks to Second Team All-HCAC selection Tim Bass who averaged just under five assists per game.
For all involved there was a learning curve associated with the move to the Sommer Center, but 2013-14 holds tremendous promise as the Bluffton cagers prepare for season two in their new home. Working from the inside out proved to be a winning formula as the Beavers found their stride midway through the 2012-13 campaign. Carrying that momentum forward is the task of this year's squad after an off-season dedicated to building on the tradition that Coach Neal and his men have forged over the past 24 years.