ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Eureka College men's basketball team will continue its pursuit of its first St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season championship Wednesday when the Red Devils go for the season series sweep of Webster in an 8 p.m. league tip-off with the Gorloks in St. Louis, Mo.
The Red Devils remain in the thick of the hunt for the league title, owning an 8-4 SLIAC record for a share of second place in the SLIAC standings with Westminster. The Red Devils and Blue Jays trail first-place Greenville by a single game with six games remaining. Eureka remains two games clear of a three-way tie for fifth place at 6-6 and currently owns one of four slots for next month's SLIAC Tournament. EC, which is aiming to return to the league's annual postseason for the first time since 2013, is 13-6 overall and has won four of its last six contests since Jan. 10.
Shea Feehan, Hank Thomas and Dakota Bennington have combined to give the Red Devils a potent offensive punch that has EC on pace to break the same single-season team scoring record set a year ago. The trio averages more than 60 points per contest and all three players shoot 42 percent or better from the floor and 76 or better from the foul line. Thomas sits at 908 career points, needing to average 15.3 points or better over the final six regular-season games to reach 1,000 for his three-year career.
Ryan McElmurry has also been a key cog in the offensive machine, delivering 13 different outings of five assists or more. His 106 total assists rank second in the league and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.4 ranks third among SLIAC players that have played in at least 60 percent of their team's games. McElmurry's 5.6 assists per game have the Galesburg native on pace to potentially reach 150 assists this winter, a single-season total not seen by a Red Devil since Shawn McGuire logged 162 in 2003-04.
The Red Devils are in their 40th season as a member of NCAA Division III and their 12th season as a member of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Eureka returns three starters, all juniors, from last season's 13-win team that broke the program's single-season record for team scoring with 90.5 points per game. In all, EC returns 18 letterwinners from last season.
SECOND-HALF SURGE PUTS AWAY BLACKBURN SATURDAY
Shea Feehan scored 41 points, Hank Thomas tallied 21 points and senior Ryan McElmurry distributed 10 assists, lifting the Red Devils to a 103-76 SLIAC throttling of Blackburn, Saturday afternoon at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.
Eureka grabbed an 11-point lead shortly before halftime, but it was a decisive run from the hosts to begin the second half put the game on ice. Feehan's jumper just 49 seconds into the period put the wheels in motion on a 14-0 surge capped by a thunderous Alex Wiegand dunk for a 55-30 cushion. Duncan King ended the blitz with a 3-pointer, but Eureka maintained the pressure and took its largest lead, 91-60, on a Thomas trey with 5:31 left.
Dakota Bennington scored 13 and Wiegand registered 11 to join Feehan and Thomas in double figures. McElmurry's 10-assist showing was one shy of his career best. The Red Devils shot 57 percent from 3-point range.
SHEA FEEHAN REPEATS AS SLIAC PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Two more SLIAC games brought two more huge offensive performances for Shea Feehan, who was named the league's Player of the Week on Monday. The announcement marked Feehan's second consecutive selection, his fifth of the season and the eighth of his 55-game EC career.
Feehan averaged 35.5 points for the week at a highly efficient pace, shooting 64 percent (28-for-44) from the floor and 57 percent (8-for-14) from 3-point range. He became the sixth player in program history to reach 1,500 career points and finished Saturday's game with 1,512 career points, fifth-most on the Red Devils' all-time list.
His 41-point effort Saturday marked his fifth 40-point outing of the season, including three in the last 11 days. Feehan also averaged 5.5 rebounds and committed only two turnovers in 70 minutes of action.
Webster returns home Wednesday after back-to-back road victories over Principia last Tuesday and crosstown rival Fontbonne on Saturday. The triumphs improved the Gorloks back over the .500 mark to 10-9 overall and 7-5 in the league. WU owns sole possession of fourth place in the conference standings.
Despite last week's outcomes, WU has lost its last two games on its home floor, including a 78-61 drubbing at the hands of Westminster on Jan. 20. Webster is 6-4 inside Grant Gymnasium this season.
Josh Johnson, a sophomore guard and one of only five Gorloks to have appeared in all 19 games this season, leads WU with a scoring average of 13.3. He is followed by freshman Christian Crespo at 12.8 points per night and freshman Nigel Wilcox with 12.7 points per game. Wilcox shoots 63 percent from the field, third-best in the league, and also ranks third among SLIAC players with 8.1 rebounds per game.
The Gorloks' defensive style will aim to keep the Red Devils off the free throw line – WU commits just 13.8 fouls per game, the third-lowest average in Division III. The style doesn't cause their effort to suffer, as the Gorloks have swatted 87 blocked shots to lead the league and rank 25th nationally. Webster also boasts a high statistical ranking in assists per game, averaging 18.6 helpers per game to rank 13th out of 416 Division III teams.
A charter member of the SLIAC, Webster is the winningest men's basketball program in league history. WU has won 266 SLIAC games between the regular season and postseason tournament since beginning competition in 1990. The Gorloks have won eight SLIAC regular-season titles, including at least a share of the crown in five of the last 11 seasons. Additionally, Webster won SLIAC Tournament championships in 2011 and 2014.
THE SERIES VERSUS WEBSTER
Wednesday's game in St. Louis is the 30th between Eureka and Webster. The Gorloks own a 17-12 record all-time against the Red Devils.
Eureka downed the Gorloks at the Reagan Athletic Complex last December, 81-70, and has won two of the last three contests against WU since last season. The Red Devils won last season's matchup in St. Louis and will be in search of back-to-back victories over the Gorloks in Grant Gymnasium for the first time since Dec. 15, 1989.
Eureka and Webster split six non-conference meetings prior to the Red Devils' entry into the SLIAC in 2006. EC won the first-ever matchup in the series, a 93-78 decision in St. Louis on Jan. 12, 1986.
MEET THE HEAD COACHES
The owner of more than two decades of coaching experience at the collegiate level, Chip Wilde is in his 11th season as head coach at Eureka. The current campaign marks Wilde's 20th season as a collegiate basketball head coach.
Wilde has proved 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 SLIAC both on the court and in the classroom. Wilde has 130 wins at EC, third-most in the 99-year history of the program.
One of the longest tenured men's basketball head coaches in the SLIAC, Chris Bunch is in his 16th season at Webster. His record is 241-169. 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.).