THE OPENING TIP-OFF
Greenville week. It only comes around a couple of times a year, and it's here again for the Eureka men's basketball team.
The Red Devils head to Greenville on Wednesday for a St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference showdown with the league's most distinguishable team at 7:30 p.m.
Then, on Saturday, the Red Devils are back home to host Blackburn inside Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena and Convocation Center at 3 p.m. as the second half of the SLIAC slate begins.
After the Red Devils took down league leader Webster in a closely-contested 85-79 battle at Eureka last Saturday, senior Dakota Bennington said that he believed the Red Devils had their mojo back.
The win over the top team in the SLIAC moved the Red Devils to 5-3 in the SLIAC and 10-5 on the season. It also put EC back in the winning column after back-to-back tough losses to Fontbonne and Spalding, respectively.
Now, the Red Devils are sitting a game out of first place. Greenville and Webster are at the top with a 6-2 record, and Fontbonne is 1/2 game ahead after besting Principia 87-76 on Tuesday.
The Red Devils continue to lead to SLIAC in rebounds (44.3) and free-throw percentage (74.6), and are second in scoring (89.2), blocks (5.7) and fewest points allowed (82.9), and third in field goals made (507 of 1,095).
On Saturday, EC shot a season-best 52.7 percent from the floor, going 29-for-55 and sinking 80 percent (21 of 26) of their foul shots.
Senior Jordan Dehm racked up 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Bennington followed with 18 points, five rebounds and three assists, Austin Juergens added 14 points and Chris Daniels chipped in with nine off the bench.
On Monday, Dehm was named SLIAC Player of the Week for the first time in his career after averaging 25.5 points, 5 rebounds and 4.5 assists against Spalding and Webster. He now leads the league in 3-point percentage at 48.1, and is fifth in rebounds per game (7.3).
Bennington is the SLIAC's leading scorer with an average of 23.8 points per game. He's also second in the league in steals (37) and third in free throws made (61-79). Last season, Bennington set a program record for points in a single game against Greenville with a 51-point effort on EC's home floor on Feb. 11.
Greenville has taken more lumps than usual this season, coming in with a 7-8 record overall through the first 15 games.
The Panthers dropped five of their first six games in non-conference play, and have suffered close losses at Fontbonne and at MacMurray.
However, they've now won four of their last five and are tied with Webster at the top of the conference with a 6-2 record.
Despite the team's losing record, Greenville is still largely doing Greenville things.
Running the high-pressure Grinnell System — which aims to take 100 shots per game, shoot 50 3-pointers per game, get 35 percent of the available offensive rebounds, force 32 turnovers and take 25 more shots than the opponent — the Panthers are leading the nation in five statistical categories.
Greenville is the highest scoring team in the nation at 129.4 points per game while also averaging the most assists per game (24.1), steals per game (19), turnover margin (12.1) and 3-pointers (20). The team is also fourth in Division III with 5.8 blocked shots.
As The System demands, the Panthers run a deep rotation that features 12 players averaging between about 19 and 11 minutes per game.
Seniors Sontiago Grady and Eric Williams are the leading scorers at 22.3 and 16.6 points per game, respectively.
Riley Simmons is second in in the nation in steals per game (3.53), and Justin Cross is fifth in the nation in blocked shots per game (2.83).
Eureka has fared well against the system lately, taking two of the past three meetings with Greenville, including a 163-146 triumph in the SLIAC Tournament semifinals last February. The Red Devils also bested Grinnell's version of it in a 122-115 thriller on Nov. 20.
Greenville leads the all-time series 52-26 dating back to 1974, but Eureka is 5-4 against the System.
At 5-10 on the season and 4-4 in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play, Blackburn isn't super far away from contention in the league.
If the Beavers could get by Spalding on Wednesday, things could get pretty interesting for Blackburn in the second half of conference play.
The Beavers have bested Fontbonne (in overtime), Principia, Iowa Wesleyan and MacMurray, and fallen to Webster, Greenville, Westminster and Eureka.
Nigel Ferrell scored a team-high 17 points for the Beavers, while Karson Hayes and Chanz Aldridge added 15 and 13, respectively.
Hayes is third in the league in scoring per game with 21.1 points per game on 47 percent shooting. Ferrell (12.7) and Chanz Aldridge (10) both average double figures as well.
The Beavers take care of the ball well, averaging a second-to-league low 14.3 turnovers per game, and are second in steals per game at 9.1. They shoot a respectable 45.6 percent from the field and average 79.9 points per game.