Centre looking for redemption

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Centre doesn’t bring up last year’s conference tournament title game loss to Trinity (Texas) too often.

But forgetting it is impossible. Senior guard Bryon Ellis had one of his toughest days of the season in the 61-50 loss, scoring just three points and connecting on just one of his seven attempts from the field.

“It was definitely a tough loss because we wanted to win the tournament,” Ellis said. “We’ve worked hard this season to have another good year and we’re looking forward to making another run at it.”

The Colonels will get to make that run on their home floor after surviving a grueling road test against Rhodes on Saturday in Memphis. They took control early against the Lynx, surging to a 39-23 lead at the half, before holding off a wild comeback attempt in the final 20 minutes.

Centre earned the right to host the Southern Athletic Association tournament with the thrilling win, although it did share the regular-season championship with Rhodes as both teams finished with identical 12-3 records.

For head coach Greg Mason, a 1994 graduate of Centre who has helped the Colonels enjoy a consistent run of success in his 13 seasons at the helm of the program, the opportunity for his team to host the tournament for the first time is a big deal.

“I am very excited for the guys,” Mason said. “We play in a very good conference, and for us to be able to host the tournament, is exciting. I was pleased with the way we played in a tough environment on Sunday, especially being able to come out with a win, and I feel good about the way we are playing.”

Ellis has played a pivotal role in the success of the Colonels, who are 18-5 overall and will open tourney play on Friday afternoon against Berry.

He is averaging 10.5 points per game and has knocked down 52 3-pointers. Ellis has also dished out 40 assists and has tallied 21 steals.

“I’ve tried to be a leader and play as hard as I can on defense,” Ellis said. “I’m more of a defensive guy and I do my best to limit the opportunities and impact the player I am guarding has on the game.”

But while Ellis is more of a defensive player, he has worked hard to improve his offensive skills as well.

“I’m mostly a catch-and-shoot player, but I worked a lot in the offseason on getting more shots off the dribble,” Ellis said. “I’ve also focused a lot on getting my teammates more in the game.”

Ellis is one of several players who have had an impact for the Colonels, who are aiming for their second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.

Sophomore forward Josh Karsner, who poured in 22 points in the win over Rhodes, is dropping in 12.0 points per outing. Freshman center Blake Scinta is clicking for 11.8 points.

The Colonels are averaging 66 points per outing and have seven players averaging at least 5.0 points per game.

“We have one of the more balanced teams in recent memory,” Mason said. “We had a lot of injuries we were dealing with early in the year, so the roles of our players have been constantly redefined. It’s been a learning experience, but because we have different players who can step up, there isn’t pressure on any one player.”

But because the Colonels aren’t a high-scoring team, they lean heavily on their ability to defend. They allow only 57.2 points per outing and are holding opponents to 38 percent shooting from the field.

The statistics are hardly a surprise for a program that prides itself on playing good defense. Centre has been one of the top 25 defensive teams in the country seven times under the direction of Mason.

“There are days where we have struggled to score, but our defense has been one of our constants,” Ellis said. “We’ve also been a good rebounding team and Ellis has been one of our best defenders and one of our best scorers.”

Ellis has been one of the key defenders along the perimeter and believes the Colonels are playing better on the defensive end of the floor than they were a year ago.

“I think we are playing a lot better on defense than we were last season,” Ellis said. “We’re playing hard and are making plays.”

The combination of Ellis and freshman forward Tyler Wesley, who is averaging 8.2 points per outing and has blocked 30 shots, have made the Colonels a tough defensive team.

“Those two are very good individual defenders,” Mason said. “Ellis is very good at chasing shooters and Wesley is a good defender in the post. We have played really well as a team on defense and it’s been a big part of our success.”

If the Colonels are to continue that success this weekend in the conference, they will have to be at their best in all phases of the game.

“Playing three games in three days is never easy and every team is familiar with each other,” Mason said. “We have to focus on the importance of every possession and play our best basketball.”

Ellis is focused on the challenge ahead and regardless of how it all turns out, he has enjoyed his experience playing college basketball at Centre.

“It’s been a great experience and I’ve been a part of a lot of success here,” Ellis said. “We just have to focus on one game at a time and not look ahead. If we play up to our potential, we will have a chance to be successful in the tournament.”

Top 25 Notes

Men: No. 15 Calvin secured the outright Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship on Saturday with an 86-60 win over Olivet. Tyler Dyskstra and Tyler Kruis poured in 14 points apiece to pace the Knights while Mickey DeVries scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Knights finished 13-1 in conference play….The regular season didn’t end well for No. 17 Wooster, which fell 68-52 to DePauw on Saturday. Xavier Brown scored 13 points to pace the Fighting Scots, who end North Coast Athletic Conference play with a 14-2 record. Wooster shot only 33.3 percent from the floor….No. 21 Virginia Wesleyan overcame a halftime deficit to earn a 71-54 win over Lynchburg on Saturday. The Marlins trailed 36-28 at halftime but used a 23-9 to take control. DJ Woodmore hit three treys and scored 18 to pace Virginia Wesleyan, which completed a season sweep of the Hornets….Andy Winters scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half to help No. 24 Ohio Wesleyan rally for a 67-64 win over Denison on Saturday. Ruel Rogers came up big on defense for the Bishops, blocking eight shots to break the single-game mark of seven. His career blocks total is at 158, which is the school record. Rogers scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the win.

Women: No. 1 DePauw capped a perfect regular season with a 76-41 win over Wooster on Saturday. The Tigers are 25-0 and become only the fourth team in NCAC history to cap back-to-back unbeaten seasons in conference play. Ali Ross scored 15 points and Kate Welker added 12 for the Tigers, who won their 50th consecutive regular-season game. Ellie Pearson and Alex Gasaway scored 11 points apiece….No. 2 Hope and No. 3 Calvin squared off Saturday in a pivotal MIAA showdown and the Flying Dutch prevailed with a 65-50 win at the DeVos Fieldhouse….Hope avenged its only loss of the year and secured a share of the league title for the 13th time in program history. Liz Ellis pumped in 20 points and tallied five steals to pace the Flying Dutch. Calvin finished the regular season with a share of the conference title as well and got 19 points from Carissa Verkaik. Kayla Engelhard poured in 10 points….No. 4 Ohio Northern capped a perfect run through the Ohio Athletic Conference with a 77-42 win over Capital on Saturday. The Polar Bears have won a school-record 23 consecutive games and set a school record for wins in a season with 24. Joanna Snyder and Cenzie Yoder pumped in 15 points apiece to lead the way. Katie Mengos clicked for 11 points. Ohio Northern shot 51.8 percent from the field….No. 7 Thomas More capped an unbeaten run through the Presidents’ Athletic Conference by knocking off Saint Vincent 75-52 on Saturday. Allison Long poured in 18 points and Katie Kitchen clicked for 17 points. Sydni Wainscott dropped in 12 points. The Saints, who finished 18-0 in league play, shot 40 percent from the floor and held the Bearcats to 32.8 percent shooting….Kelly Halverson nailed seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 27 as No. 18 Christopher Newport knocked off Averett 82-36 on Sunday. Halverson also grabbed four rebounds and tallied two steals and a block as the Captains earned a share of the USA South championship. Camry Green added 12 points and nine rebounds for Christopher Newport, which held a 49-32 advantage on the boards….No. 23 Ferrum won a USA South championship for the second consecutive season, knocking off Greensboro 67-50 in the final game of the regular season on Sunday. Tesla Akers pumped in 15 points and Kayla Goins clicked for 12 points for the Panthers, who trailed 29-25 at halftime. Ferrum, which also got 10 points apiece from Jacole Hairston and Katy Kipps, used a 17-3 second-half run to take control….Four players scored in double figures as No. 24 Louisiana College capped its regular season with an 89-53 win over Mississippi College. Natosha Gottlieb poured in 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to pave the way while Kala Chenier clicked for 18 points. Neka Jones added 15 points and Skylar Chenevert added 10 points. The Wildcats scored 39 points off turnovers and scored 22 second-chance points to fuel their win.

American Southwest Conference

Texas-Dallas earned the right to host the conference tournament by winning the East Division championship. The Comets clinched the championship with a 76-55 win over LeTourneau on Saturday.

Texas-Dallas lost 45-42 to the Yellow Jackets earlier this season but was ready for the rematch. Kyle Schleigh poured in 23 points to pace the Comets and his pushed his season point total to a record 523 points. Matthew Medell and Chris McOmber pumped in 11 points apiece as the Comets shot 48.2 percent from the field.

Texas-Dallas, which jumped on top 13-0, held a 39-28 edge on the boards en route to its fifth consecutive division crown.

Howard Payne’s women’s basketball team came up short in its season finale to Concordia on Saturday but will still host the conference tournament for winning the West Division title.

The Yellow Jackets lost 88-69 as they shot only 35 percent from the field. Howard Payne trailed 53-35 at halftime. Breanna Conway scored 13 points to pace the Yellow Jackets. Dana Marrs scored 12. Howard Payne was outrebounded 46-33.

Brianna Smith paved the way for Concordia as she scored 24 points, highlighting her performance with six 3-pointers. DJ Vallier pumped in 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Great South Athletic Conference

Huntingdon capped its regular season with its first conference championship as it knocked off Wesleyan (Ga.) 90-52 on Saturday.

The Hawks went 8-2 in league play and earned the right to host the conference tournament. Huntingdon is unbeaten at home this year and nailed down its latest home win behind 16 points apiece from Patricia Pickens and Chelsea Taylor.

Raven Prater clicked for 10 points. The Hawks shot 51.4 percent from the field and limited Wesleyan to 38.1 percent shooting.

Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association

Hope extended its overall win streak to eight games and will play in the conference tournament for the 22nd consecutive season after knocking off Trine 81-72 on Saturday.

Ben Gardner pumped in 18 points to pace the Flying Dutchmen, who have the best offense in the conference at 78.5 points per game. Brock Benson clicked for 14 points and Hope shot 52 percent from the field while connecting on 29 of its 39 attempts from the free-throw line. Hope scored its last 13 points from the line in the win.

Olivet’s women’s basketball team will be the third seed in the conference tournament this week. The Comets lost 61-60 in their regular season finale to Albion after trailing 35-19 at halftime.

SoQuitta DeShazor and Stefanie Lang scored 14 points apiece for Olivet, which finishes 10-6 in the conference. Kelsey Campbell dropped in 11 points and dished out eight assists. Her assist total pushes her season mark to 136, which breaks the single-season record of 135 that she set last season.

Olivet shot only 37.3 percent from the field while Albion shot 41.4 percent. Katie Thompson scored 14 to lead the Britons.

North Coast Athletic Conference

Kenyon is in the conference tourney for the 10th consecutive season and will be seeking its first championship since 1994. The Lords topped Allegheny 83-74 on Saturday and will host its first tournament game since 2008.

Brian Lebowitz scored 21 points to go along with eight rebounds and three blocks while Julian Pavlin poured in 18 points, dished out four assists and tallied two steals. Dan Voigt scored a season-high 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Kenyon. Ikenna Nwadbia recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Kenyon’s 15 wins is the most since the 2008-09 team won 16 games in the regular season.

Kenyon’s women’s basketball team will be aiming for its third conference tournament championship this week. The Ladies are the second seed in the tournament and are coming off a 57-44 win over Allegheny.

Kayla Ernst came through with her fifth consecutive 20-point game, dropping in 23 points to go along with eight rebounds. Ernst has scored 494 points this year and it’s the second-highest single-season total in program history. She has 1,464 points in her career, which ranks her third all-time.

Maureen Hirt scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds as Kenyon ran its win streak to four games.

Ohio Athletic Conference

Capital clinched the OAC championship for the second consecutive season by knocking off Ohio Northern 61-47 on Saturday.

The Crusaders finish 16-2 in conference play and are headed to the conference tournament for the eighth consecutive season.

Tim Congrove went off for 18 points on the strength of six 3-pointers and Spencer Niekamp pumped in 12 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists.

Capital tallied 19 assists and shot 57.1 percent from the field. It held the Polar Bears to 42.6 percent shooting from the floor. Dominique Royal led Ohio Northern with 14 points.

For the first time in program history, Otterbein’s women’s basketball team has come through with back-to-back 20-win seasons.

The Cardinals finish the regular season at 20-5 after knocking off Heidelberg 73-45 on Saturday. Otterbein will be the second seed in the tourney and Hannah Day led the way against Heidelberg with 28 points. Day drilled five treys and pushed her career point total to 955.

Allie Leopard and Chelsea Cannon clicked for 11 points apiece. Otterbein shot 45.3 percent from the field and held a 47-31 edge on the boards. The senior class at Otterbein is 62-42 in four years.

Old Dominion Athletic Conference

Hampden-Sydney earned a share of the conference championship with an 82-61 win over Emory & Henry College on Saturday.

The Tigers are 14-2 in the conference and will be the second seed in the ODAC tournament.

Hampden-Sydney led 37-34 at the half before taking control in the final 20 minutes en route to their 11th win in their last 12 games.

Harrison George scored 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He also dished out five assists. Kodie Critzer dropped in 17 points and tallied three steals. He knocked down five treys. Khobi Williamson finished with 14 points and six rebounds.

The Tigers shot 46.3 percent from the field and forced 20 turnovers. They also got 50 points from their bench in the win.

Eastern Mennonite’s women’s basketball team tied the school record for consecutive wins by knocking off Hollins 73-66 on Saturday.

The Royals have won their last 12 games, tying the win streak set by the 1984-85 Royals squad.

Bianca Ygarza paved the way for Eastern Mennonite, coming through with her fourth double-double of the year. She scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.

Steph Rheinheimer nailed four treys and pumped in 14 points. Keyla Baltimore added 12 points for the Royals, who shot just 34.7 percent from the field but scored 22 points off turnovers as they clinched the outright league championship.

Presidents’ Athletic Conference

Saint Vincent nailed down its biggest win of the regular season on Saturday as it held off Thomas More 88-79 on Saturday to win the conference championship and earn the top seed in the PAC tournament.

Both teams came into the game with identical 14-1 records in conference play.

Six Bearcats scored in double figures in the thrilling win, including Isaac Turner, who pumped in 23 points. Grant Latus scored 10 points and tied the single-game blocks record with nine. Dillon Stith clicked for 15 points and pulled down 13 rebounds.

Sean Kett also tallied a double-double as he dropped in 10 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Edmond Wright II scored 10 and Chris Klimchock scored 14 points.

Saint Vincent held a 51-38 edge on the boards and won despite turning the ball over 20 times.

D’Carlo Hayes paced Thomas More with 29 points. Hayes was 15-of-20 from the free-throw line. Drew Mumford added 12 points for the Saints.

Saint Vincent’s women’s basketball team had its nine-game win streak ended in a 75-52 loss to conference champion Thomas More on Saturday.

The Bearcats were blitzed by a 15-0 run to start the second half after trailing just 33-30 at halftime.

Saint Vincent will be the second seed in the conference tournament and got 18 points and eight rebounds from Devin McGrath. McGrath also dished out six assists and tallied four steals.

Melissa Mansur pumped in 11 points and pulled down six rebounds as the Bearcats shot 32.8 percent from the floor and got only eight points from their bench.

Southern Athletic Association

Rhodes came up short in a 76-74 loss to Centre on Sunday, but the Lynx still managed to clinch a share of the conference championship.

The Lynx struggled early, falling behind by as many as 25 points, and trailed 39-23 at halftime before making a valiant second-half comeback attempt.

Drew Miller’s last-second shot attempt fell short but he finished his day with 27 points, six rebounds and five steals. Miller scored 22 of his points in the second half while Andrew Galow and Geoff Livsey clicked for 15 points apiece.

Rhodes shot 46.4 percent from the field and only turned the ball overs even times. The Lynx closed the regular season by winning five of its final six games and went 11-3 in conference play.

Millsaps’ women earned the right to host the SAA tourney after knocking off Oglethorpe 45-36 on Sunday. The Majors clinched a share of their first conference title since 1996.

Shante Morton paced the Majors with 14 points and Miah Brooks was a force in the paint as she pulled down 17 rebounds. The Majors finished 12-2 in league play.

Millsaps held the Stormy Petrels to only 15 points in the second half and limited them to 23.4 percent shooting from the field.

The Majors, who led 22-21 at halftime, shot 34 percent from the floor and forced 24 turnovers en route to the victory.

USA South Athletic Conference

Christopher Newport’s men’s basketball team wrapped up its second consecutive conference championship with a 76-52 win over Ferrum on Sunday.

The Captains finish 11-3 in league play and took control early as they rolled into halftime with a 33-19 lead, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field in the opening half.

Nik Beraj poured in 15 points to go along with nine rebounds and six assists. Evan Thorpe clicked for 15 points as well while Mike Cherry pumped in 14 points. Paul Meredith and Tra Benefield scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the win.

Christopher Newport got the job done on defense by holding the Panthers to 34 percent shooting.

Maryville’s women’s basketball team claimed a share of its first conference title with a 68-54 win over Methodist on Sunday.

Kiera Payne dropped in 18 points and pulled down five rebounds to lead the way while Janell Menard clicked for 17 points. Tayler Smith came through with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Scots, who finished 16-2 in the conference and tied with Christopher Newport and Ferrum for the championship, took control early, opening up a 40-23 lead at halftime. They finished the day shooting a blistering 58.8 percent from the field.

Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference

Trinity earned the top seed in the conference tournament with a 65-61 win over Dallas Saturday night.

The Tigers end the year 12-3 in conference play and Heath Hopson helped lead the way in the game against Dallas, pouring in 21 points. He also grabbed five rebounds.

Trinity fell behind 15-8 early and was down 28-24 at the half before shooting 71.4 percent in the second half to battle back for the win.

Matt Hopper came off the bench to score 12 points. Trinity shot 48.9 percent from the floor and overcame a 27-point effort by Tanner Bruffey, who knocked down seven 3-pointers.

Trinity’s women’s basketball team capped a perfect run through the conference by beating Dallas 82-68 on Saturday.

The Tigers have won 15 consecutive games, one of their longest win streaks in program history, and finish unbeaten in SAA action for the first time.

Murphy Burns broke loose for 28 points, hitting four treys along the way, and Anecia Richardson clicked for 11 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Libby Kruse scored 11 points and dished out seven assists while Hannah Coley came off the bench to score 10 points. Coley also tallied seven rebounds and four assists.

Trinity finished 15-0 in league play and the 21 wins is the fourth-highest total in program history. It is believed to be the most for a Trinity team led by a first-year coach. Cameron Hill is in his first season with the Tigers.

Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. The highlight of his career was covering the University of Findlay men's basketball team's perfect 36-0 run to an NCAA Division II national championship in 2009. During his career, has covered all three levels of the NCAA tourney and has done freelance work for newspapers and web sites. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.