THE OPENING TIP-OFF
EUREKA — The Eureka men's basketball team snagged a pair of wins in the first week of St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Now, the Red Devils are looking to improve to 3-0 with a league win over Westminster in the last home game of 2019.
With the first semester of classes over and the year 2019 nearly in the books, the Red Devils have a 6-1 record overall and are one of only two teams in the SLIAC with a 2-0 record in the league. Up-tempo rival Greenville is the other.
It's the Red Devils' second 6-1 start through seven games of the past three years. To put this in perspective: During last year's storied run to the NCAA Tournament, Eureka didn't achieve its sixth win of the season until Jan. 23.
Last week, Eureka scored road wins over SLIAC foes Blackburn and Principia. First, the Red Devils held off a Blackburn team that trimmed an 18-point lead to single digits down the stretch and came away with a 91-81 win.
Then, on Saturday, EC took care of Principia, 112-93.
The Red Devils led the way wire-to-wire. Although the Panthers cut the lead to 12 points by the end of the first half, Eureka responded by using a 15-0 run early in the second half to pull away and lead by as many as 29.
SLIAC leading scorer Dakota Bennington (25.6 points per game) dropped a season-high 31 points while going 13-for-20 from the field, making two 3s, sinking all three of his free-throw opportunities and adding five rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.
Fellow senior Austin Juergens followed with 22 points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block, while classmate Jordan Dehm came off the bench and contributed his second straight double-double, finishing with 14 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Junior guard Ian Milsteadt posted 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in 22 minutes, and senior reserve Kyler Stork posted a career-high 10 points and three boards in 10 minutes. Ten Red Devils got on the board and 17 checked in the game.
In last week's games, Eureka led the league with a 43.6 3-point percentage. Through seven games, Eureka has the highest field-goal percentage in the SLIAC at 47.6 percent, the highest free-throw percentage (73.2) and the most rebounds per game (46.1)
Westminster enters the third game of SLIAC play with a 1-1 record in the league and a 2-6 mark overall.
Last week, the Blue Jays fell just shy of knocking off Greenville on the road in a 132-131 shootout. They then came back from that and earned an 89-71 win over Iowa Wesleyan at home on Saturday.
The Blue Jays' top scorers are sophomores Landon Harrison and Jaxon Althaus, who average 17.4 and 16.9 points per game, respectively.
Harrison, a 5-foot-10 guard, is second in the league in 3-point percentage at 47.8 percent and fourth in field goals with 55 made in 99 tries. Althaus, a 6-5 forward, is fifth in the league in steals with 17 overall. Omar Wright is fourth in assists (28), and Ethan Thompson is fifth in 3-pointers made with 20 in 57 tries.
In Saturday's win over Iowa Wesleyan, Harrison scored in double figures for the seventh time on the season, finishing with a game-high 25 points. Althaus led the Blue Jays with 10 rebounds in the game.
Westminster first win of the season came in a 98-84 victory over Manchester in the Webster Classic on Nov. 23.
The Blue Jays are third in the league in scoring at 84.9 points per game, but are giving up 100.8, falling second to last in the SLIAC in fewest points allowed.
They're in the top four in the league in field goal-percentage (45.6), 3-point percentage (35.6), free throw percentage (72.5), assists per game (17), steals per game (8.5), but conceded the most turnovers of any team in the league (18.6).
Westminster holds 26-16 advantage over the Red Devils, and swept last year's season series, winning 88-72 and 79-74. The team was selected to finish seventh in the SLIAC in the preseason poll.
BENNINGTON NAMED BACK-TO-BACK PLAYER OF THE WEEK
For the second week in a row, Eureka's Dakota Bennington is the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Week.
The 6-foot-3 senior averaged 27 points per game while shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, 36.4 percent from 3-point range and 66.7 percent from the free-throw line in a pair of SLIAC wins over Blackburn and Principia this week. He also contributed 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game.
First, in Wednesday's SLIAC play opener at Blackburn, Bennington tallied 23 points on 9-for-17 shooting, along with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals as Eureka pulled off a 91-81 league win on the road.
Then, on Saturday at Principia, he dropped a season-high 31 points on 13-for-20 shooting (65 percent), made two 3s, sunk all three of his free-throw opportunities and added five rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block. The Red Devils earned a 112-93 victory to improve to 6-1 on the season and 2-0 in SLIAC play.
This is Bennington's fifth time receiving SLIAC Player of the Week honors in the past two years.
Heading into the last SLIAC contest of the semester, he sits atop the league in points per game at 25.6 while shooting 59.5 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from 3-point range and 74 percent from the floor. He's also notched 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.