Case on the radar

More news about: Case Western Reserve | Stevenson
Julien Person is one of five seniors for the Spartans, who are ranked for the first time.
Case athletics photo by Martin Stanek Photography

While Northeast Ohio continues celebrating the Buckeyes’ national championship and waiting for the Cavaliers to improve, there’s a nice story in Cleveland courtesy of the Case Western Reserve men’s basketball team.

A program-best 12-2 record to start the season has the Spartans ranked for the first time in program history in the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll. The balanced, experienced and talented Spartans are ranked 25th in this week’s poll following a pair of wins last week over New York University and Brandeis. They are one of four University Athletic Association teams that are ranked in this week’s poll.

“I am really proud of my guys and we’re off to a good start,” 12th-year CWRU coach Sean McDonnell said. “Being nationally ranked is a reflection of the hard work of our players and assistant coaches. While we’re happy to be recognized, I am confident our players won’t rest on their laurels and think that this enough.”

Playing a key role in the success, senior forward Dane McLoughlin has averaged team bests of 16.4 points and 6.5 rebounds with a team-high 43 three-pointers. Ranked sixth in the UAA in scoring and 10th in rebounding, McLoughlin is just two treys shy of tying John Link's (1999-03) program career record (199).

Senior guard Julien Person provided the late heroics in Sunday's comeback overtime win against Brandeis with 17 points. He scored 15 of his points, including the game-tying free throws with 21 seconds remaining, after intermission. For the season, Person is averaging 11.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and a team-high 1.6 blocks.

Junior point guard Jimmy Holman averages 7.6 points and a team-best 5.0 assists. Off of the bench, twin freshman forwards Eric Black and David Black have averaged 10.0 and 8.8 points, respectively. The Black twins helped CWRU win the battle of the benches against Brandeis, 33-7.

In demonstrating their balance and depth, the Spartans have been led by a different player in scoring in each of their first three conference games. McLoughlin’s sixth career double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) led the Spartans against Brandeis. Person’s 14 points led five players in double figures in the win over NYU. Black delivered 15 points to lead Case in the win over Carnegie Mellon.

“We have great experience, five seniors who play important roles and a lot of depth,” McLaughlin said. “This is a good group of guys who do a good job of sharing the ball and make the extra pass. It’s fun to play on our team. Also I believe we have good leadership and our players aren’t surprised by the success we’ve had so far.”

The success started during the preseason when players decided to adjust their workout routine. Despite the demanding academic rigors of Case Western Reserve, the players committed themselves to working out early in the morning before the roosters awoke. Sacrificing sleep and relaxation has fueled the Spartans’ strong start.

“It was a tough adjustment at first, but over time we started looking forward to the workouts as a team,” McLoughlin said. “It definitely helped to build camaraderie and we all have better relationships with each other because of that.”

That slight change along with some outstanding community service efforts has helped the Spartans become closer. Each Friday when they are in town for home games, players visit various middle schools in Cleveland to tutor students in sixth through eighth grades in math and other subjects. The visits are one of the highlights of the week for the players, who are treated like royalty by the students.

“It’s great and awesome seeing the smile on their faces,” Person said of the weekly school visits. “To them, we’re like Kentucky when we walk into the classroom. They ask us lots of sports questions. They like hanging out with us and we like hanging out with them. It’s also a pretty good feeling knowing that we are making a difference in the community. We help them with their school work and they help us win games.”

Life in the UAA

Case Western Reserve has had a varying amount of success in the past decade in non-conference games, but has had a losing record in conference each season.

Season Non-conf. Conf.
2006-07 4-7 (.364) 1-13 (.071)
2007-08 7-4 (.636) 1-13 (.071)
2008-09 7-4 (.636) 5-9 (.357)
2009-10 8-3 (.727) 6-8 (.429)
2010-11 4-7 (.364) 5-9 (.357)
2011-12 8-3 (.727) 2-12 (.143)
2012-13 7-4 (.636) 5-9 (.357)
2013-14 8-3 (.727) 6-8 (.429)
2014-15 9-2 (.818) 3-0 (Jan. 21)

Many of the students have attended a handful of home games this season. The Spartans have won all eight of their home contests this season and are 18-3 since the start of last season. Person noted this past home game against Brandeis was one of the more well-attended Sunday contests that he could remember during his time at Case Western Reserve.

A little over a week ago, the Spartans enjoyed another bonding experience as they gathered to watch the Buckeyes beat Oregon in a restaurant near campus. McLaughlin is a Columbus native and a huge Ohio State fan so that victory added another memorable moment to his already sterling senior season. McLaughlin’s good friend, OSU fullback Nick Vannett caught the go-ahead touchdown late in the first quarter of the game.

“That was a pretty big day for me,” McLaughlin said. “I was excited. A few of us got together and watched the game, so that was fun. We have fun playing with and being around one another. It makes my job easier knowing my teammates have my back and I am sure they feel the same way about me.”

Case also received a confidence boost from playing tough at Bucknell in an 88-65 loss. They were tied with Bucknell with 18 minutes remaining.

The only setback this season to a Division III school was an 87-74 decision to Denison in November. Since then, the Spartans have won nine straight games against Division III opponents, including six straight overall.

Case Western Reserve will be tested over the next two weeks when they play four straight away games beginning Friday at No. 12 Emory. The Spartans will visit Rochester, Chicago and Washington before returning home on Friday, Feb. 6 to host Chicago.

“It’s a great feeling to be nationally ranked,” Person said. “When we learned that we were nationally ranked, we were excited. We sent texts to each other. We all know that this is just the beginning and we have to work harder. We aren’t anywhere close to accomplishing our season goals.”

Trivia question

What men’s school has the nation’s fourth longest winning streak? Answer is at the bottom of this column.

Cardinals flying high

Not even a 10-day break can slow down St. John Fisher, which is on a serious roll, having won 11 straight games following Tuesday’s 77-46 win over Alfred. The Cardinals are currently receiving votes in the D3hoops.com Top 25 poll. They are enjoying their longest winning streak since the 2006-07 season and at 13-2 overall is off to its best start since the 2008-09 campaign. St. John Fisher has won its last eight games by double digits.

Powering the Cardinals engine this season has been the dynamic duo of Ryan Keegan and Kinard Optimystik. They each shared the scoring load with 13 points each in the win over Alfred. Keegan pulled down 17 rebounds for the Cardinals. For the season, Keegan is averaging 16.1 points and 9.7 rebounds. He also grabbed 18 boards in a 67-37 win over SUNY-Old Westbury.

Proving to be impervious to the dreaded sophomore slump, the 6 foot 7 inch Keegan has been even better this season. He has scored in double figures in every game but one this season. He has also collected seven double-doubles, including two straight. Averaging 11.8 points per game, Optimystik has scored in double figures 11 times this season for the Cardinals, who are 6-0 in the Empire Eight.

St. John Fisher leads the Empire Eight in scoring offense, scoring defense, rebounding, and assists.

St. John Fisher also features a triumvirate of players averaging at least nine points per game: Chaz Lott (9.5), Adam Hart (9.5) and Adam Ambielli (9.1). Defensively, the Cardinals are allowing 58.9 points per game. During their 11-game winning streak, the Cardinals have held six teams below 60 points. They will look to continue their roll Friday night when they visit Houghton University.

Mustangs charging

As the first half of Commonwealth Conference play concludes, there’s a surprise leader on the women’s side in Stevenson University. Building off of last season’s strong finish in which they advanced to the ECAC tournament and won 14 games, the Mustangs are one win from matching last season’s victory total thanks to their current 11-game winning streak.

At 13-2 overall, Stevenson has set a new record for the best start to a season, surpassing the 2005-06 squad that started 10-2. The team is also unbeaten in five home games this season. Stevenson hosts Lebanon Valley Thursday night.

The Mustangs lead the Commonwealth Conference in scoring margin (13.6), turnover margin (+15.50), steals (12.8) and scoring defense (51.6). The defense is forcing 28.5 turnovers per game and ranks 16th nationally in turnover margin.

The latest triumph was a 76-51 road decision over Lycoming last Saturday in which 6-1 sophomore Sara Tarbert, a transfer from UMBC, totaled at least 20 points for the third consecutive game and seventh time this season. In addition, Tarbert pulled down 14 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season. Tarbert has been a monster for the Mustangs this season, averaging 17.1 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per contest.

Last season for UMBC, Tarbert shined as she was named America East Rookie of the Year. In addition, Tarbert was a third-team All-Conference honoree and named to the All-Rookie Team after earning a conference-best and program-record five America East Rookie of the Week selections. She posted double-digit points in 23 of 29 games, including six double-doubles and six 20-point performances while leading all America East freshmen in scoring (13.8), fourth in the league, rebounding (7.1), sixth in the league, and field goal percentage (.435), eighth in the league.

Her presence has rubbed off on the rest of her teammates, who are flying high. The Mustangs feature an ultra-athletic and quick group of players committed to causing defensive mayhem and playing together as a team. That’s a trademark that third-year coach Jackie Boswell and her staff has instilled in the Mustangs. Stevenson plays a fun style of basketball that’s worth watching.

Stevenson, who finished with a season-high in points against Lycoming, also had a season-best 49 rebounds against Lycoming. Senior Kayla Kelly finished with 11 points while Stephanie Martinez, Ty Bender and senior Kyarra Harmon all chipped in nine points each. Harmon also added six rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Harmon is second on the team in scoring (10.4 points per game) and she is shooting 42 percent from the field. The white-hot Harmon was a human blow torch in a win against Alvernia as she scored a season-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting. She has scored in double figures seven times this season.

Kelly, a biotechnology major, is a steady rock for the Mustangs. A second team All-Commonwealth Conference selection a season ago, Kelly is averaging eight points per game for the Mustangs. She has a fun game that is appreciated by basketball purists and is a joy to watch play.

Shout-outs

Sophomore Mike Gelineau nailed a three-pointer with 14 seconds remaining in the game to lift Western New England to a thrilling 74-71 victory Tuesday over Salve Regina in Commonwealth Coast Conference men's basketball action at the Alumni Healthful Living Center field house, giving coach Mike Theulen his 100th win on the Golden Bears sideline. ... Averaging 27 points per game in two wins last week, Allegheny senior Josh Valentic was named the North Coast Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Player of the Week. ... Valentic averaged 27 points, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 steals, while shooting 57 percent from the field and 53 percent from behind the three-point line. Manchester’s Matt Brown scored 32 points to help his team claim a 74-73 victory over Hanover. ... New Jersey City University sophomore power forward Bria Smith was selected as the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association (MBWA) Division II-III Women's Player of the Week for January 12-18, 2015 after averaging 15.7 rebounds, 14.3 points, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.3 blocks. Smith is the first Gothic Knight women's player to ever win the award from the MBWA under its current format, which selects the top Division I and Division II/III players from among the 73-school Met area.

Trivia Answer

If you guessed Lancaster Bible, then you would be correct. The Chargers are 12-1 and have won 12 straight games after edging Valley Forge 76-69. The Chargers have not lost since an opening day defeat to Messiah on Nov. 15. Lancaster Bible, members of the North East Athletic Conference, has been paced by a strong attack with four players averaging double figures: C.J. Dunston (15.9 ppg.), Dondre Perry (14.5), Naheer Mirza (10.9) and Albert Suniga (10.7). The Chargers have won 34 games since the start of last season. They visit Kueka and Wells this weekend in conference action. Marietta (16), Chapman (14), Albertus Magnus (13) currently have longer winning streaks in NCAA Division III than the Chargers.

Help me

I am serving as the national columnist this season for D3hoops.com. I was the Atlantic/Mid-Atlantic Regional columnist last year. To help with telling the best stories, delivering fun and insightful nuggets while providing teams the recognition they deserve, please add me to your email list for press releases and postgame releases at rob.knox@d3sports.com.

Don’t worry about flooding my inbox. I am also going to try to get as many names into my column as possible and will do so in the weekly “Shout-outs.” Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter @knoxrob1.



Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for D3hoops.com and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon