Preview: Eureka Looks For Split With Blackburn Saturday

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

EUREKA, Ill. -- The Eureka College men's basketball team will host Blackburn Saturday afternoon in a 3 p.m. St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference bout at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena. The Red Devils will look to even the season series after dropping a 78-61 decision to the Beavers in Carlinville in December.

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The Red Devils will look to begin a new win streak on Dave Darnall Court after their seven-game stretch came to an end during Wednesday's 88-87 loss to MacMurray. EC is 12-6 overall, 7-4 in the SLIAC and 7-1 at home. Eureka is tied for second place in the conference standings with Westminster and remains one game behind league-leading Greenville.
Eureka has scored 80 points or more in all but five games this season and ranks 12th nationally with 90.3 points per game. Shea Feehan ranks second nationlly with 31.9 points per game, followed by Hank Thomas with 17.7 points per contest. Feehan has made 115 foul shots this season, sixth-most nationally, and Thomas continues to move closer to the 1,000-point club with 887 points in his 67-game collegiate career.
Dakota Bennington, a sophomore transfer from NAIA Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) gives the Red Devils another explosive option on offense. The Peoria native delighted the Reagan Athletic Complex crowd with a thunderous dunk against Iowa Wesleyan earlier this month and has averaged 15.7 points per game off the bench since making his EC debut on Dec. 19.
In addition to all of the offensive firepower, the Red Devils' own the league's best field goal percentage defense (.406) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.320). EC is 8-1 this season and 103-72 (.589) in 11 seasons under head coach Chip Wilde when allowing 79 points or less.
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.
Shea Feehan scored 30 points and Dakota Bennington added 15, two of four Red Devils to reach double figures in an 88-87 SLIAC loss to MacMurray, Wednesday night at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.
Wednesday's outcome was in doubt until the final possession. Eureka trailed by six but scored on back-to-back possessions to get back within three, 88-85, and later rallied within 88-87 after two Ryan McElmurry free throws with 23 seconds remaining. MacMurray's Brent Long was quickly fouled and missed both ensuing free throws, giving EC a chance to shoot for the win in the closing seconds. After a series of timeouts, the Red Devils' out-of-bounds play under the basket with 1.5 seconds remaining was unsuccessful.
Feehan went 13-for-23 from the floor and finished the contest with 1,471 career points to move in front of Greg Nunn (1984-87) for sixth place on Eureka's all-time scoring list. Bennington went 6-for-6 from the free throw line and Austin Juergens netted a career-high 14 points thanks to an 8-for-8 effort at the charity stripe.
Blackburn has a 10-8 record and finds itself in a four-way logjam for fourth place in the current SLIAC standings with a 6-5 record. The Beavers have won two of their last three SLIAC contests, but have dropped six consecutive true road games since Dec. 19.
Junior guard Duncan King puts up 13.4 points per contest, one of three Beavers to score at least 11.1 points per game. Sophomore Karson Hayes tacks on 12.7 points per game and senior Reed Rusten nets 11.1. All three players shoot 43 percent or better from the field.
Senior Malcolm Scott collected a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game and sophomore Nigel Ferrell paces BC with 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Ferrell's 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks seventh in the SLIAC.
The Blackburn defense generates 9.6 steals per game, the 33rd-highest average in Division III. The Beavers also get a fair amount of second chances on offense, gathering 12.7 offensive rebounds per game to rank second in the league and 73rd nationally.
The Beavers were picked ninth in the league in a preseason coaches poll. BC is aiming to return to the SLIAC Tournament for the first time since sharing the regular-season championship and owning the #1 seed in 2006.
The Reagan Athletic Complex has been a house of horrors for Blackburn over the last decade. The Beavers have dropped 11 consecutive games to the Red Devils in Eureka since Dec. 6, 2006 and have won only six times in 27 attempts since January 1975. 
Eureka is 18-5 against BC as SLIAC rivals and leads the long-time series since 1974, 38-17.
The Beavers beat the Red Devils in Carlinivlle on Dec. 9, 78-61. Thomas tallied 18 points in 28 minutes. Donald Hardaway, Jr. came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers en route to nine points . Alex Wiegand collected six rebounds. Eleven different Beavers scored Saturday, led by 13 points off the bench from Savion Smith. He added 10 rebounds for the game's only double-double.
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 129 wins at EC, third-most in the 99-year history of the program.
The 2017-18 season is Steve Kollar's third as head coach at Blackburn. Kollar is 33-35 overall in Carlinville and 24-23 against SLIAC opponents.
Kollar is a 2005 graduate of Elmhurst where he played for Eureka College Hall of Famer Mark Scherer. Kollar owns prior coaching experience as an assistant at St. Francis (Ill.) and Benedictine.