Preview: SLIAC Stretch Begins Wednesday With Spalding

Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Curl.

EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College men's basketball team will begin a stretch of 14 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference games in 46 days on Wednesday night when Spalding travels to Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena for an 8 p.m. league start against the Red Devils.

PDF Version of Eureka Men's Basketball Game Notes

Eureka is a perfect 5-0 at home this season and will aim for its sixth consecutive victory on Dave Darnall Court on Wednesday. The Red Devils are 8-3 overall and 3-1 in the SLIAC to own a share of first place with three other teams in the early-season conference standings. 
Despite reaching the 80-point mark only twice in five December outings, the Red Devils continue to rank among the nation's best in scoring. EC tallies 89.8 poins per game, second-most in the SLIAC and 16th-most in the country. Eureka shoots 77 percent as a team at the free throw line, the 14th-best team percentage in Division III.
Junior guard Shea Feehan continues to rank second nationally in scoring with 31.3 points per game, trailing only Grinell's Vinny Curta for the Division III lead at 36.7 points per game. His 21-point effort last Saturday at Maryville (Mo.) bumped his career point total to 1,241 to tie Hughley Blanton (1976-80) for 10th place on the Red Devils' all-time scoring list.
Additionally, Feehan's 47-game career scoring average of 26.4 is currently the higest career mark among NCAA men's basketball players in all three Divisions.
Hank Thomas adds 19.2 points per game for EC. The junior from Peoria shoots 84 percent from the free throw line and ranks 70th nationally with 211 total points this season.
A victory Wednesday would give the Red Devils at least nine wins in their first 12 games for the second consecutive season and just third time since the 1993-94 campaign.
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.
In its first visit to former conference rival Maryville (Mo.) in nearly a decade, Eureka suffered an 88-65 non-conference setback to the NCAA Division II Saints last Saturday afternoon at Moloney Arena in St. Louis, Mo.
MU scored the game's first 15 points and was in front at halftime, 49-28. Brady Sanders made a pair of free throws with 12:02 remaining to trigger an 8-0 EC run that slashed Maryville's lead to 68-46. The Red Devils clawed within 20 as late as the 4:38 mark, but couldn't trim their deficit any further.
Shea Feehan paced the Red Devils with 21 points and eight rebounds. Hank Thomas and Dakota Bennington chipped in 12 points apiece. Ryan McElmurry logged five of EC's 13 assists. The Red Devils committed only nine turnovers, their lowest team total since the Nov. 25 victory at Monmouth.
Spalding has opened the season 4-6 through its first 10 outings and split its first four league games for a 2-2 mark. SU has alternated wins and losses over its last four games since Dec. 2 and lost its most recent game, a 75-60 SLIAC setback at MacMurray on Dec. 16. Wednesday's game in Eureka will end a 17-day break from game competition for the Golden Eagles.
Louisville native Dominique Ellis shoots 56 percent from the field, 43 percent from 3-point range and 87 percent from the free throw line. He has started all 10 games and leads SU in scoring this season with 15.9 points per game. Senior forward Brandon Williams follows with 11.6 points per contest and a team-best 6.4 rebounds per game and newcomer Robert Bendingfield adds 6.7 points per night.
Wednesday's game will feature a sharp contrast of styles. The Golden Eagles have the league's lowest scoring offense, tallying only 64.0 points per game to rank 402nd nationally out of 416 Division III teams. At the other end of the floor, SU limits opponents to a SLIAC-low 71.0 points per game. That figure is even lower in SU's four league games, just 67.3 points allowed on average.
Spalding joined the SLIAC in 2009 and became eligible for the NCAA postseason in 2013 after completing the mandatory provisional period during its transition from the NAIA. The Golden Eagles have won or shared four SLIAC regular-season championships, including three straight from 2013 through 2015. The Golden Eagles have also won SLIAC Tournament crowns in 2013 and again in 2015.
In 17 all-time meetings between the two schools since Spalding's entry into the SLIAC in 2009, SU leads the series, 11-6.
The Red Devils swept last season's home-and-home series from SU for the first time, including Eureka's first victory over the Golden Eagles in Louisville in nine tries. In all, Eureka has won three in a row over SU since January 2016.
Eureka and Spalding have met one time in the SLIAC Tournament. The Golden Eagles won a thriller in overtime over the Red Devils in Louisville in the league's 2013 championship game, a 64-62 final.
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 125 wins, third-most in the 99-year history of the program.
Longtime coaching veteran Kevin Gray is in his 20th season at Spalding. The Louisville, Ky. native, who was named SLIAC Coach of the Year in 2011, 2013 and 2014, has guided the Golden Eagles to national tournament berths as members of the NAIA, USCAA and NCAA.
Prior to his arrival at Spalding, Gray earned coaching experience as an assistant on various NCAA Division I staffs, including Chattanooga, Alabama and Baylor. He is a 1976 graduate of Chattanooga and was a three-year captain for the Mocs.