The Ashland University men's basketball team welcomes Ohio Christian to Kates Gymnasium on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Eagles are 3-0 all-time against the Trailblazers, an NAIA program from Circleville, Ohio.
2-AND-OH START: The Eagles opened the season last week in the GLIAC/G-MAC Challenge, which was played at two sites. Ashland opened the season last Friday with a resounding 72-57 win at Lake Erie before turning back Ohio Dominican in the home opener on Sunday in come-from-behind fashion, 66-60. The Eagles have now won their first two games in each of the last five seasons.
HOME COOKING: After starting the season in Painesville, Ohio, the Eagles started a five-game homestand at Kates Gymnasium on Sunday. AU will have another five-game stretch of home games Dec. 15 - Jan. 5. Only 10 of Ashland' 28 regular seaosn games this season are on the road. The Eagles are 50-11 in their last five seasons at Kates Gymnasium, including Sunday's win over Ohio Dominican.
LOCK DOWN: The story of the two-game season so far has been the Eagles' defense. Ashland has the seventh-best scoring defense in the country, holding the Storm and Panthers to just 58.5 points on average. The Eagles also have the nation's 16th-best shooting defense, allowing their two opponents to shoot just 36 percent form the field. While Ohio Dominican scored 30 points in each half against Ashland, their scoring in the second half came much less efficiently. AU held the Panthers to just 36 percent shooting after halftime. The Eagles also held Lake Erie to just 33 percent shooting for the entire game. Opponents are hitting only 24 percent of their 3-pointers against the Eagles.
COME BACK: Last season, the AU men's basketball team had a penchant for coming back in the second halves of games, most notably returning from a 22-point deficit to beat Northern Michigan in the GLIAC Tournament quarterfinal at Kates Gymnasium on the way to an overtime victory. On Sunday, the deficit was not quite as large, but the Eagles still rallied from 12 points down to topple the Panthers, who were coming off an impressive win over Wayne State to start the season. ODU is also the defending G-MAC champion.
ROD'S GAME: Junior guard Rodrick Caldwell made his Kates Gymnasium debut against Ohio Dominican and was impressive as the Eagles' offensive sparkplug. He scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the second half as he steered the Eagles offensively. It was the fourth 20-point game of his career. The 5-foot-10 Dayton native was 4-for-7 in the second half and buried four free throws in the final minute to secure the win. He drained three 3-pointers in the game.
CLUTCH THREES: While the Eagles have struggled shooting the ball from deep in the early-going this season (24 percent), they got a couple huge triples in mounting their comeback. Redshirt-senior guard Ben Haraway connected on a triple with 5:43 remaining to give Ashland its first lead of the game at 51-50. Just two minutes later, senior forward Phil Frentsos came open in the corner and drilled a trey to snap a 52-52 tie. The Eagles would not relinquish the lead after that point. Those were the only 3-pointers made by Ashland on the day other than the three made by Caldwell.
DREW DROPPIN' DIMES: On both of those clutch 3-pointers, the player finding the open shooter was junior center Drew Noble, who played the role of facilitator remarkably well. The 6-foot-8 Louisville, Ohio native entered the game with a career high of three assists, but doubled that total on Sunday, handing out six dimes as he worked his inside-out game. He also had nine points and seven boards on the day.
THOMPSON ON GUARD: With a full collegiate basketball season under his belt, redshirt-sophomore wing Aaron Thompson is looking to have a breakout season this campaign. The 6-foot-3 Toledo, Ohio native had the role of defensive stopper last season. That is still the case this year. His first assignment came against Gabe Kynard of Lake Erie, who was an All-GMAC guard last season. Thompson held Kynard to 16 points on 19 shots in Friday's win. Thompson will also see his role expand offensively this season as he has scored 10 points in each game, mostly as a result of direct drives to the basket. He is also shooting 8-for-11 from the line, where he shot just 57 percent last season.
ANOTHER DEBUT: Caldwell wasn't the only player making his AU debut last week, but his former BGSU teammate Derek Koch also suited up in the purple and gold for the first time. The 6-foot-9 West Salem, Ohio native is averaging 10 points and 6.5 rebounds in his first two games, while shooting 53 percent (10-19) from the field. At Bowling Green, he started all but two games for the Falcons, averaging 6.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He is Ohio's all-time leading rebounder in high school as a product of nearby Northwestern High School.
BATTE OFF THE BENCH: Redshirt-freshman forward Ryan Batte also saw his first collegiate action last week, making his debut against Lake Erie. The first-year player impressed by pulling down eight rebounds in 20 quality minutes for the Eagles, who maintained a double-digit lead over the Storm throughout the second half. The 6-foot-6 Cincinnati native also had three assists, a steal and a block in his time on the floor in that game. Against Ohio Dominican, he collected four more boards in 18 minutes off the bench.
PHIL'S ENERGY: Outside of the key 3-pointer he hit in Sunday's win over Ohio Dominican, Frentsos was crucial in other areas as well. His versatility off the bench allowed the Eagles to play faster offensively and he finished the game with eight points and five rebounds in just 16 minutes. Frentsos will be relied upon most in those areas – shooting, rebounding and energy.
PRESEASON POLLS: Coaches around the country will tell fans that nothing is to be gleaned from preseason polls (or regular season ones for that matter), but that doesn't stop the discussion around them. The Eagles were picked to win the GLIAC South by the league's coaches, earning 10 of the 12 first-place votes in the division. Grand Valley State was picked second and Davenport third. Defending national champion Ferris State was picked to defend its GLIAC North crown with nine of the 12 first-place votes. Northern Michigan had the other three. The Eagles also received votes in the preseason NABC Division II Coaches' Poll and are receiving votes in the D2SIDA Media Poll.