Another week lines up yet another pair of Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tests for the Defiance College men’s and women’s basketball teams as they close in on the halfway point of the conference agenda.
With both squads hanging tight near the middle of the HCAC pack, the DC men (7-6, 2-4 HCAC) and women (4-9, 3-3 HCAC) will go their separate ways on Wednesday in a pair of conference tilts with the Spartans of Manchester University before reuniting on Saturday for a league double-dip against Mount St. Joseph.
That will leave just one conference clash with Earlham on the docket for the Yellow Jacket roundballers to wrap up round one before they take another trip around the HCAC ride.
Wednesday’s portion of the slate finds the Yellow Jacket men entertaining Manchester (5-8, 3-3 HCAC) in a 7:30 p.m. battle at the Karl H. Weaner Community Center, while the Lady Jackets hit the road to do business with the Lady Spartans (6-7, 3-3 HCAC) on their home planks.
On the men’s side, the hometown Jackets are currently looking to shake the pangs of a five-game skid after dropping a pair of losses to conference rival Bluffton and league favorite Transylvania last week.
Both setbacks had DC in prime position to possibly flip the scripts, but poor free throw shooting against Bluffton and a rough day on the boards at Transy were two gnarly culprits that ultimately left the Yellow Jackets short on the scoreboards.
While a 10-of-21 (47.6 percent) effort at the stripe was crucial in a close 68-64 loss to Bluffton, the Jackets faced an entirely different scenario against the Pioneers. Despite hammering a 21-point deficit down to just two points late in the game, DC fell victim to Transylvania’s explosive 32-20 rebounding edge (17-4 offensively) that made all the difference in a 90-83 heartbreaker.
“We just haven’t been good enough to win,” said Defiance men’s coach Scott Cutter. “There are always things to pick at and want to get better at. But our guys, mentally, are in a good spot. They just want to win bad, and we’ve just got to make the plays to get on the right side of the scoreboard.”
A win on Wednesday against Manchester could go a long way, providing a tourniquet to stop the bleeding from four straight conference losses while lodging the Yellow Jackets more securely in the HCAC fold with the midway point just around the basketball bend.
“We’re right there, we’re ready to snap out of it,” Cutter insisted. “I thought last week we had two games where either one of those two could have snapped us out of it and got us feeling better about ourselves. We have an opportunity Wednesday night to do that again, and our guys will give a great effort. We just have to execute well enough to put a ‘W’ up.”
The Defiance College ladies, meanwhile, kept themselves level in the HCAC standings last week after taking down one rival before succumbing to another.
The Lady Jackets snagged 27 defensive rebounds on a chilly shooting night for Bluffton, starting the week by knocking off the Beavers – who were 8-3 overall coming into the game – by a 55-50 margin. Saturday’s battle against Transylvania also had some positives, as the Jackets hung nearly even with the HCAC powerhouse through the final three quarters.
It was Transy’s wicked 29-7 lead after the first stanza, however, that was too much to overcome in a 75-46 loss to the Lady Pioneers.
With a battle against what appears to be an evenly matched Manchester squad on the immediate horizon before wrapping up the first round of conference romps opposite Mount St. Joseph (3-10, 2-4 HCAC) and Earlham (4-9, 3-3 HCAC), the Defiance women could be sitting well in the standings with a little roundball magic in their corner.
“All of our goals of making the conference tournament and finishing in that top group are still there,” said head coach Allan King, Jr. “These next three games, or the last half of the first round, are against the teams that we’re right there in the middle with. This is kind of that separation time going into the second half of the season, so the goals are right there, the opportunities are there.”
No one knows where that conference pendulum goes, but the Lady Jackets will be attempting to swing it in their favor on Wednesday against a Manchester team that stacks up with them nearly even in many categories on paper.
Averaging 58.2 points, 32.9 rebounds and 11.7 assists per game, the Spartans’ 34.6 percent shooting from the field includes a 28.8 percent clip from the perimeter. Also throwing in 70.3 percent from the stripe, the bulk of Manchester’s production comes from sophomore Macy Miller (9.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg), senior Nicole Weaver (9.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.6 apg) and freshman Hannah Lindsey (8.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
“The style of play is a little different … they play a little more of pressing, aggressive defense,” said King of the Spartans. “They’re a well-coached team, (Manchester coach) Josh (Dzurick) always tries to take you out of what you do well. We’re preparing to adjust to some of those things and attack their defenses in a few spots that we feel we can take advantage of.”
Sophomore guard Taylor Day (9.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.7 spg) continues to lead the way for Defiance, which has also gotten some solid play as of late from emerging freshman guard Taylor Steinbrunner (6.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg) and junior Kalyn Pickens (5.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg).
Meanwhile, freshman Lexie Sparks (8.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg) has been the best weapon off the bench for the Jackets, who are scoring 54.2 points per outing.
“I think it will be a fun, exciting game to play,” said King of Wednesday’s contest. “I really think it’s gonna come down to turnovers and rebounds. We’ve got to win the turnover battle and we’ve got to win the rebound battle. I think that’s what the two games last year came down to. We were able to secure both of those battles and we were able to win the games, so I think that’s what it will be again this year.”
Back home in Defiance, the Yellow Jacket men will be once again faced with what has been a recurring scene against nearly every HCAC foe they have faced …
A squad that boasts production out of nearly everyone that steps foot on the floor.
With four starters averaging double figures in the scoring column, Manchester rolls into town on Wednesday averaging 70.3 points, 35.4 rebounds and 13.2 assists per game. The Yellow Jackets top the Spartans in shooting across the board at 46.3 percent from the field, 37.1 from the arc and significantly at 74.6 from the line, but 13.5 turnovers per game and a low average of 32.3 rebounds (just 30.5 for a minus-eight in HCAC play) are numbers that continue to serve as kryptonite for DC.
“In playing college basketball, especially once you get into the heart of the season, our guys are just learning that there are no plays you can take off,” said Cutter. “Teams are going to score even when you do things right because it’s college basketball and there are really good players. We’re still in the process of just learning that urgency of the moment.”
The Defiance sophomore trio of Tyler Andrew (12.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.8 apg), Sean Tyson (12.5 ppg, 4.5, 5.3 apg) and Marell Jordan (12.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.7 apg) continue to lead the Yellow Jackets, with junior Micaiah Cox (7.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg) also making some much-needed noise as of late.
Also weighing heavily in DC’s favor has been the production starting to be put in by the freshman duo of Ottawa-Glandorf product Owen Hiegel (6.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.7 apg) and Jack Kolar (7.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
The Spartans bring to Wednesday’s fray a fourfold starting front led by juniors DeMoines Whitney (12.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 1.1 apg), CJ Hampton (11.9 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.5 apg) and Cortiz Buckner (11.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.9 apg) along with Keiton Hall (10.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg).
“They’ve got a number of guys that can go make plays on their own and are surrounded by some guys that can really shoot the basketball. They are balanced,” said Cutter. “If you look at their starting lineup, they have four guys in double figures.”
The Defiance men will continue their weeklong home stand on Saturday against MSJ (3-10, 1-5 HCAC) before polishing off the first half of conference play against Earlham (5-8, 1-5 HCAC) next week.
Saturday’s twinbill will feature the DC women at 1 p.m. before the men take the floor at 3 p.m.