Men’s basketball ready to make run at OIC

 

All the wins, all the losses, all the shots, all the rebounds, everything has led to this moment for the Pioneer’s men’s basketball team.

Senior guard Eric Coblentz shoots a late clutch 3-pointer against Central State University on Feb. 2 that ensured the 81-79 victory. Coblentz shot was on that night as he led all scorers with 27 points with 8 of 14 shooting from the field and five of seven shooting from beyond the arc. (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

After a 12-14 regular season the Pioneers men’s basketball team prepares for their biggest games yet as they get ready for the Ohio Independent Championships.

The OIC is a new postseason tournament fit to schools, like the Pioneers, who are in the transitional independent year of the NCAA process. The seedings were determined by the winning percentage teams compiled against other OIC teams. To learn more click here.

With the tournament bracket set the Pioneers head into the OIC as the fourth seed, which means they will take on the fifth seeded Urbana University (8-18) in a home game tonight Feb. 28.

The Pioneers have played Urbana twice and came away with victories both times, winning 83-74 on Jan. 14 and 89-73 on Feb. 4.

Despite the rather easy victories, head coach Tim Walker fully expects Urbana will play with nothing to lose and he does not plan on taking them lightly.

“It is the last week for everybody, so it is kind of an opportunity to turn it loose and play with no regrets,” Walker said. “We expect them (Urbana) to play extremely hard and I think it will be a challenge for us.”

To prepare for the game Walker said the team will not be doing anything “magical” because at this point of the season it mainly comes down to execution.

“This time of year there is not a whole lot you can do,” Walker said. “We have played them twice, we know what they can do and so it is just about going out there and playing.”

[pullquote]He (Bates) will be very crucial and we will need him to play really well this week for us to have a chance,” Walker said.[/pullquote]

For the last few games, and going into play against Urbana, the Pioneers will be without a key cog of their team as senior center Bradson Ephraim is out with a broken hand.

Walker said the injury occurred on what he called a “freak accident” during a practice a while back when Ephraim collided with a teammate for a rebound.

What this injury means for the Pioneers is less of a post presence and more minutes for other players already in the rotation like junior forward Zach Bates to try to fill the gap left by Ephraim’s absence.

Actually, while the Pioneers will need their leaders like senior guard Eric Coblentz and sophomore guard Isiah Elliot to step up they will need Bates more. According to Walker, Bates is an X-factor for the Pioneers, especially now with Ephraim out.

“He (Bates) will be very crucial and we will need him to play really well this week for us to have a chance,” Walker said.

Players on the bench watch their teammates in action in the 81-79 victory over Central State University. If the Pioneers are to win their opening-round match head coach Tim Walker said they will need to defend and rebound well as a team. (Photo courtesy of Andy Smith)

Despite the tough 78-72 loss on Saturday Feb. 25 to Cedarville, the Pioneers are winners of four of their last six games and feel as if they are a much improved team.

“I think this season has been a very up and down sort of year, but in the past several weeks we have been playing very hard and been more focused than before on our goals,” said sophomore forward Cory Veldhuizen. “I don’t know if I can call this our ‘best ball,’ but I can confidently say that we have improved significantly since the beginning of the year.”

If the Pioneers continue to defend and rebound like they have in the past few weeks the Pioneers expect they can make a strong run in the OIC and send out their seniors on a winning note.

“I expect us to send Eric and Bradson out in the best possible way,” Elliot said. “If we play as well as we have been playing the past few games then we should be able to make a nice run in this tournament.”

The Pioneers will host their first round OIC opponent Urbana University tonight, Feb. 28, in Osborne Hall. Tip off will be at 7:30 p.m.

Chris Sherwood is sports editor for The Aviso AVW.

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