Dondre Perry and Lancaster Bible tore up the NEAC this season. What will that translate to against Wooster?
By Rob Knox
Sometimes, the vibrant city of New Orleans is referred to as “The City That Care Forgot.” Even though, the undefeated Lancaster Bible men’s basketball team secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, the Chargers must have felt like the “The Team The Committee Forgot.”
Lancaster Bible was the final team announced to the field of 62 during Monday’s selection show. When you’ve waited an entire lifetime to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, a few additional agonizing minutes aren’t going to make a difference, even though there was a significant fear that, if they’d lost the conference title game and gone just 26-1, they would have been left out.
“We were getting a little worried,” Lancaster Bible junior guard Bryce Williams said with a laugh. “It was kind of funny a little because our hearts were racing as each team was being called. Seeing our name was a big sigh of relief.”
The Chargers (27-0 overall) are one of two undefeated teams in the country. They make their tournament debut against Wooster (21-7) Friday night at 5:30 p.m. at Catholic University’s DuFour Center in Washington, D.C. Host Catholic (22-5) meets Commonwealth Coast Conference champion Endicott (18-10) in the second game at 7:30 p.m. Friday’s winners meet Saturday for a trip to the Sweet 16.
This is a big deal to the scenic campus in Lancaster. Every Lancaster Bible athletic team is cancelling practices Friday so that they can be in attendance in D.C. on Friday night. Even though the Chargers are excited to be dancing and experience March Madness, they understand that this is a business trip to the nation’s capital.
While Lancaster Bible will playing its first NCAA Tournament contest in program history, Wooster will playing its 57th tournament game. The committee should just pencil in the Fighting Scots into its blank bracket every year. Wooster has been in the national field 21 of the last 22 seasons and 24 times since 1990. This is the Fighting Scots’ 14th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“We are not sure what to expect,” senior C.J. Dunston said. “I know our crowd will cheer loud. We understand that Wooster has more NCAA experience. We’re going to come out and play our normal game and see what happens. It’s great to play a program like Wooster. I know for me, I’ve always wanted to play in the NCAA tournament. Coming into this season, we weren’t going to be denied. We set our minds to getting to the tournament this year.”
Lancaster Bible’s trip to the NCAA Tournament is a perfect reward for its perseverance and sustained excellence over the last three years. The Chargers have compiled an impressive 77-12 mark. The Chargers have won 31 straight games dating back to last season and they currently lead the country in assists through the regular season with 513.
The only major blemishes during that span were losing in the North East Athletic Conference championship game in each of the past two years, and the NEAC is the definition of a one-bid league.
The turbo-charged Chargers left nothing to chance this season, winning 26 games by double figures and topping 100 points eight times. This season, Lancaster Bible leads the nation in assists per game (19.0). The Chargers are second in scoring margin (23.5), sixth in scoring offense (94.6), ninth in rebounding margin (plus-8.1) as well as ninth in steals per game (10.7).
Charging the Scots
It will be an intriguing matchup when Lancaster Bible faces Wooster on Friday night. Wooster is in the Division III NCAA Tournament for the 14th consecutive time, an NCAA record.
|Lancaster, Pa.||Wooster, Ohio|
|835 full-time undergrads||2,014 full-time undergrads|
|Avg. att: 544||Avg. att: 1,464|
|1st NCAA appearance||25th appearance|
|Coached by Zach Filzen||Coached by Steve Moore|
|27 career wins||776 career wins|
|1-0 vs. field||4-5 vs. field|
For those who think Lancaster Bible is some fluke and in the tournament because it won a trip in a raffle, had better think again. The Chargers’ most impressive win was a 94-66 victory over Franklin & Marshall in November. The Diplomats rarely lose like that to anybody.
“That win over F&M solidified what we were thinking coming into the season that we could build something special,” said first-year Lancaster Bible head coach Zach Filzen, who was named NEAC Coach of the Year. “That win gave us confidence that we can play with any program. We didn’t think much about being undefeated for the season until a couple of weeks ago when it was close to being a reality. It’s a great accomplishment for our program and something not many people can say that they did.”
Despite being undefeated, the Chargers enter Friday’s contest against Wooster as a lower seed and forced to wear their road uniforms. Some people would be up in arms about the perceived disrespect, but Lancaster Bible doesn’t care about that. The Chargers are thrilled for the opportunity to showcase their up-tempo and entertaining style of hoops that has had fans dancing, shouting and jumping for joy all season.
“We’re just thankful to be in the NCAA Tournament,” said the 26-year-old Filzen. “That’s where our mindset is. We’re not thinking about disrespect. We believe we got a fair seed and location. I am glad that we’re playing a neutral game. We didn’t feel disrespected at all by the committee. We understand that we still have some things to prove.”
The Chargers have some serious talent and athleticism. With six players averaging at least nine points per game, the Chargers thrive by causing controlled chaos, forcing the ball to randomly carom around the court and turning the scoreboard into a pinball machine. At times, it seems as if the Chargers have six or seven players on the floor at the same time.
Dunston, who was named the NEAC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, is the Chargers’ undisputed leader.
Dunston led the conference in shooting percentage (65.4) and was third in rebounds (10.1). Dunston's 65.4 shooting percentage is the fifth-best mark in NCAA Division III. He averaged 17.1 points per game this season and he led the NEAC in steals with 69 and was fourth in blocks with 34. Dunston's 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio was the best in the NEAC and his 83 assists were the ninth-most in the conference.
Williams, in his first season with the Chargers after transferring from Division I St. Leo, led the NEAC in scoring with 19.9 points per game. His 173 made field goals are the most in the conference. Williams also led the NEAC with 96 3-pointers. Williams' 3.84 made 3-pointers per game are the third-most in NCAA Division III, as are his 96 3-pointers.
“We’ve been keeping up with the polls and we’ve seen what some people have said about us,” Williams said. “We excited to showcase our school and program. Everybody has worked hard this season to make this opportunity possible and we’re ready to show everyone what we are made of. We’re all brothers and we don’t have any selfish players on our team. We also have a lot of weapons on our team.”
In addition to Williams and Dunston, junior Kurt Keltner was named to the NEAC Second Team and senior Dondre Perry was named to the NEAC Third Team for the second straight year. Keltner, a junior, averaged 11.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. His 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio was sixth-best in the conference and his 92 assists were sixth-most this season in the NEAC. Keltner scored 20 or more points in a game four times this season, including a career-high 28 points on Feb. 6 against Penn State-Berks.
Perry, a senior, averaged 12.4 points in 25 games this season. His 50.2 shooting percentage was seventh-best in the NEAC and he had five games this season in which he shot over 60 percent in a game. Perry had a season-high 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting against Penn State-Berks back on Dec. 2.
Jordan Mellinger (10.4 points per game) and Herbie Brown (9.7) have also averaged more than nine points this season for the balanced Chargers. Interesting fact about Mellinger is he wants to be a bull-rider after he’s done at Lancaster Bible.
“We play for each another,” Dunston said. “We don’t have any egos on this team and it’s been great to be part of a special team like this. After falling one game short of the tournament last year, that’s all I thought about everyday this summer. That was my motivation and since many of us stayed up here in Lancaster all summer, we were all on the same page and focused coming into the season.”
The Chargers have enjoyed a special season and now they are looking to add some more accolades to their most decorated campaign in program history.
“It’s been a fun run and we are looking to keep it rolling,” Filzen said. “It was a thrill to see our name pop up. We’re excited to be a part of the NCAA Tournament. We have a great deal of respect for Wooster and we know that they have a great program with lots of success. It’s an honor to compete against them. I know we’re ready for the challenge. We are going to play the best that we can play Friday and see what happens from there.”
Around the Nation was writen by Rob Knox during the 2015-16 season. A former Division III Sports Information Director at Lincoln University, Rob Knox also worked at Coppin State, ESPN, Kutztown and at the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times. He was inducted into the Lincoln University Athletics Hall of Fame, named the CoSIDA Rising Star Award College Division winner and won three writing awards for various game stories including the 2007 D-III sectional triple-OT game between Guilford and Lincoln. In the past, he has also written articles for SLAM magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, a graduate of Lincoln and is from Chester, Pa.