Redemption is definitely on the minds of both the Defiance College men’s and women’s basketball teams after each endured a rude HCAC awakening on Saturday, and the Yellow Jackets will have two golden opportunities to turn things around this week against a pair of conference rivals from Bluffton University and Transylvania University.
The biggest challenge here? The Jackets and Lady Jackets are facing Bluffton and Transylvania – two schools equally dangerous on their respective side of the gender fence, arguably setting up one of the toughest weeks thus far for the DC men and women roundballers.
First up for Defiance College is a home twinbill against Bluffton on Wednesday before the Jacket squads hit the road to Transylvania on Saturday, tangling with a pair of HCAC favorites in both men’s and women’s preseason prognostications.
But while Saturday’s long haul to Lexington, Ky., is certainly a blip on the Jackets’ league radar, the immediate task is getting prepared for Wednesday’s conference clash with some Bluffton ballers riding high in both the men’s and women’s HCAC standings.
Slated for a 6 p.m. tip time at the Karl H. Weaner Community Center, the DC Lady Yellow Jackets (3-8, 2-2 HCAC) will start the evening against the Lady Beavers (8-3, 2-2 HCAC) before the Defiance men (7-4, 2-2 HCAC) host their rivals from Bluffton (6-5, 2-2 HCAC) in the nightcap.
Both games on Wednesday – and Saturday, for that matter – are pivotal for the Defiance squads after each had a tough Saturday in losses to Franklin that knocked them out of respective HCAC frontrunner ties.
For the DC ladies, the road to redemption begins against a Bluffton squad which will also be looking to right the ship in the wake of a 67-47 thumping at the hands of Transylvania – also the reigning HCAC champion.
“The one thing about young kids is they seem to play up to their competition, so I’m hoping that is the case this week,” said DC women’s head coach Allan King, Jr. “We’re looking to build confidence throughout the week, and I believe that we can play with these teams. That’s why you play the game, because you never know on any given night what could happen. But I think these are definitely games that we can compete in and gain confidence in any of those ways.”
On the men’s side, meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets will not only be tasked with facing the Pioneers on Saturday, but they will first have to deal with a Bluffton squad riding high after having just dealt the HCAC favorites a stunning 87-78 upset.
“I know we have a good team. We still have guys learning the importance of some things that are a big deal to win basketball games,” said Defiance men’s coach Scott Cutter, whose Jackets want nothing more than to snap their current three-game losing skid. “We can’t have moments or a half a game where you’re not good in a certain area because good basketball teams will take advantage of that. But I’m excited about where we’re going and Wednesday is a great opportunity, for sure.”
After committing 17 turnovers in a non-league loss to Heidelberg and 16 more in Saturday’s HCAC setback against Franklin, the Jackets’ miscue average has risen to 13.9 per game. This will be a primary area of concern against a Bluffton defensive effort that has been responsible for causing 12.4.
“We’ve turned the ball over too much, especially for the guys that we have that I think are pretty good ball handlers,” said Cutter. “It’s hard … your good players don’t get a chance to shoot on plays where you give it to the other team, so we’ve got to take care of the basketball. It’s a huge deal. We’ve got to get that number cut way down.”
The Yellow Jackets – as they were against Franklin – will against be facing an HCAC foe with multiple threats who can get things done. Led by senior guard Andrew Renner (18.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.1 apg), the Beavers’ starting arsenal also includes double-digit juniors Dezman Brown (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.8 apg) and Aaron Rich (10.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), along with sophomore guard Jameel Cosby (11.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 apg).
The Beavers are also getting it done off the glass, out-boarding their foes with a plus-five average and nearly a two-rebound edge offensively.
Led by sophomores Tyler Andrew (14.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.0 apg) and Sean Tyson (13.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.5 apg) on the starting planks, Defiance has seen the rise of bench players such as sophomore Marell Jordan (11.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.4 apg) and freshman Chase Glock (3.1 ppg), both of whom stepped up with big moments over the weekend.
But the Jackets will need a full team effort offensively and defensively against a Bluffton squad that has multiple go-to guys who can all get it going in unison.
“They’re similar in a lot of ways to Franklin. They’re really balanced,” said Cutter. “They have multiple guys that can go make a one-on-one play. It’s sort of ‘pick your poison’ again. They have some guys that can get you at the basket, some guys that can shoot threes … we have to put together a game plan to do the best we can to take those away.”
The DC women are also on a quest to fight off a recent bout with miscues, which will be essential in a pair of HCAC matchups this week against two tough conference customers.
With Bluffton coming to town on Wednesday towing a scrappy defense forcing 17.1 turnovers per outing and committing just 14.1, cutting down on a giveaway average upwards of 20 per game is the first order of business for the Lady Jackets.
Next will be sharing the ball and spreading the wealth. While the Defiance ladies hold a decent overall assist average of 9.3 led by freshman point guard Nicole Sims with 1.6, sophomore guard Taylor Day (10.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) sits as the lone Jacket averaging double digits in the Defiance scoring column.
Despite some stellar bench play this weekend from senior Liz Martin and freshman Lexie Sparks, the lack of overall production and involvement did not fare well against Franklin and will be a major topic of emphasis against Bluffton.
“If we take any positives from last Saturday, we had 26 turnovers and we still scored 64 points. We only had seven assists and we still scored 64 points,” said King. “I look at those things as positives because if we can flip those things on its head … that’s what we’re practicing today.”
Getting players involved has not been an issue for the Lady Beavers, whose 12.5 gives per game have resulted in several players making an impact.
The Beavers’ 63.6 points per game average as a team begins with starting sophomore forward and recent HCAC Player of the Week Brianna Gillig (16.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) along with senior point guard TJ Mills (12.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.4 apg), a daunting duo responsible for the bulk of Bluffton’s scoring production.
Not one to be overlooked, Bluffton freshman Sammi Shardo (8.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg) has also proven herself as a player to watch on a squad that has been human with 36.7 percent shooting from the field but has leveled that out with 10.9 offensive rebounds per contest.